After a decade in Mogadishu, Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

Briefing Notes, 10 July 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This past weekend UNHCR successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in Mogadishu for the past 11 years.

The group, comprising 12 families, were flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on Friday 6 July. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island following a short ferry ride, while five families opted to remain and re-start their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja.

The returning refugees have been given a reintegration package including a cash grant, four months' food supply, as well as basic shelter and household items. Together with the Tanzanian authorities, UNHCR will be monitoring the returned families to ensure their successful reintegration.

The heads of households were young men when they left Zanzibar in January 2001, fleeing riots and violence following the October 2000 elections there. They were among 2,000 refugees who fled from the Tanzanian island of Pemba.

They travelled to Kenya, some by boat to the port of Mombasa, where they were recognized as refugees by UNHCR and transferred to Dadaab refugee camp. While some repatriated already in 2001, others spontaneously left the camp, deciding not to return home, but instead to move on to the Somali capital Mogadishu, as well further north to Yemen.

Despite arriving in the Somali capital amid civil war these refugees made a living opening barber shops, working as carpenters, fishermen and even as teachers. But like many others in Somalia's war-torn capital they were forced to relocate within the city.

Most married Somali women, had children, and integrated into Somali society. However, in 2010 some of them approached the UNHCR office in Mogadishu to ask for help in returning to Pemba, a request that kick-started the process which led to this weekend's repatriations.

The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, totalling some 20 families (approximately 70 people), told UNHCR that they will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return. UNHCR Somalia continues to keep close contact with those refugees still in Mogadishu, as the continuing rebuilding and renovation in the Somali capital is currently impacting many sites and the Zanzibaris may have to be relocated again soon.

Despite two decades of conflict and instability, Somalia hosts 2,124 refugees and 9,373 registered asylum seekers, mainly from Ethiopia. UNHCR's refugee operation is focused in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi, Somalia office, Andreas Needham,on mobile: +254 733 120 931
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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