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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Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation of 38 Tanzanian refugees from Zanzibar who had been residing in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, for more than a decade. The group, comprising 12 families, was flown on two special UNHCR-chartered flights from Mogadishu to Zanzibar on July 6, 2012. From there, seven families were accompanied back to their home villages on Pemba Island, while five families opted to remain and restart their lives on the main Zanzibar island of Unguja. 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. The remainder of the Tanzanian refugee community in Mogadishu, about 70 people, will wait and see how the situation unfolds for those who went back before making a final decision on their return.

Tanzanian refugees return to Zanzibar

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

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