On his trip to Smara in the the Refugees Camps, Ban met with the Polisario Front's Secretary General Mohamed Abdelaziz. He then went on to visit Bir Lahlou in the Liberated Territories of Western Sahara.
Whilst in Smara, Mr Ban made a press statement, the transcript of which is below.
This marks a milestone in the UN's most recent involvement in Western Sahara and we hope it will bring about some positive action to help the refugees.
PRESS STATEMENT: I am honored to be able to visit here today.
I had a very good meeting with Secretary-General Abdelaziz and I would like to take this opportunity to express my most sincere thanks for their very kind welcome.
I have been very much moved seeing for myself what their aspirations and their challenges are.
As you know this morning, I went to Smara camp. I wanted to start my programme there by meeting with school children and representatives of young people in Smara camp.
I was most deeply moved and touched by such a warm and very passionate welcome by so many people who came out to welcome me and my delegation.
From their faces, I was able to read what they were going to tell us and I was deeply moved.
Simply because of the crowd, my convoy was not able to move. There was some issue about how to control the crowd so we had to skip the programme so I came directly from there to here to meet Secretary-General Abdelaziz.
Fortunately, I was able to meet with the representatives of the youth groups just now but I had to skip my meeting with the school children. I am very sorry for that but I am sending my best, best wishes for the their future.
What really moved and, even, saddened me was the anger. Many people expressed their anger – people who for more than forty years have lived in the harshest conditions and who feel their plight and their cause have been forgotten by the world. Understandably, they are angry.
I have assured the representatives of youth that the United Nations will do much more. First of all, to resume face-to-face dialogue and, at the same time, provide support to all refugees and people here.
The humanitarian conditions are very dire and we have to work to provide education for young people and we have to provide food, water, sanitation and livelihood [support] to all these people. So [the] United Nations will do much more with the international community.
The parties to the Western Sahara conflict have not made any real progress in the negotiations towards a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution. Through all this, we should be able to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara as the Security Council [has been] requesting since 2004.
My first objective in visiting the region is to make my own assessment and contribution to the search for a settlement.
I am grateful for my exchanges with Secretary-General Abdelaziz. I will spare no effort to help make progress. My discussions provided good elements in this regard.
My second objective was to visit the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). I will visit the team site in Bir Lahlou, as well as personnel performing vital demining activities. I saw the remarkable and demanding work the Mission is doing in harsh conditions of the Hammada. I also expect to visit the headquarters of MINURSO in Laayoune, Western Sahara, soon.
Third, I wanted to bear witness to one of the forgotten humanitarian tragedies of our time. The Sahrawi refugee camps near Tindouf are some of the oldest in the world. It is heartbreaking to see these families separated for so long. The Sahrawis have endured a great deal of suffering in harsh conditions. I want to draw the world’s attention to a population whose plight is often overlooked.
This situation is unacceptable. Independently from the political process, the plight of the people must be addressed.
[My] fourth objective is to finalize the security situation here. We are concerned about increasing criminality, drug trafficking and even the possibility of extremists and terrorists coming to this region. We must address this issue in a comprehensive manner.
At the same time, I am calling on the donor countries to increase their assistance to this overlooked population to provide life-saving humanitarian [aid]. We must show that the world remembers the Sahrawi people. To that end, I will soon convene a meeting of donors and assistance providers in Geneva.
The World Humanitarian Summit this May in Istanbul will be another opportunity to mobilize global solidarity. That requires resolving situations facing people [who] have been displaced for generations, as we see here.
I have been heartened by the faith Sahrawis people put in the UN, its principles, and international law. Let us match this with determination to alleviate their plight and resolve this longstanding conflict for the better future of all Sahrawis.
WESTERN SAHARA CAMPAIGN UK
The Western Sahara Campaign works in solidarity with the Saharawi people to generate political support in order to advance their right to self-determination and to promote their human rights.
Our role is to lobby the UK Government and the EU. You can help us to ensure the UK does not ignore the voice of the Saharawi people.
Follow the news about EU's illegal fisheries in Western Sahara