Thirty-Eight Tanzanians from Zanzibar and Pemba return home today from Mogadishu, Somalia where they have lived as refugees for more than a decade, it was disclosed in Dar es Salaam yesterday.
In a statement, citing key reasons which motivated the voluntary repatriation of the former Tanzanian refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Dar es Salaam said Somalia’s complex political situation could not make the refugees enjoy national protection and social welfare that they needed.
Another reason, the statement said, is that “the circumstances that caused their flight from their country of origin are no longer exist today, thus allowing them to come back.”
According to the statement available to The Guardian, the former refugees approached UNHCR at the end of 2010 with an interest to voluntarily return home.
Since then, UNHCR has been making all the necessary arrangements for their return and reintegration in collaboration with the governments of Somalia and Tanzania. A total of 12 families (38 people among whom are Somali family members) will be officially welcomed in the country, returning to six different places of origin in Zanzibar and Pemba, said the statement.
Tanzania, considered as Africa’s “island of peace”, made international newspaper headlines in January 2001 when more than 2,000 refugees left the clove-rich island of Pemba following political riots and civil strife triggered by the October 2000 General Election.
The political turmoil started when police broke up demonstrations by supporters of Zanzibar’s leading opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), against what they considered were unfair elections, won by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.
Avoiding what they saw as ‘political persecution’, the Tanzanians sought refugee in neighbouring Kenya where they were recognised as refugees by UNHCR and transferred to the Kenyan north-eastern Dadaab refugee camp.
However, in 2001, some of them voluntarily repatriated back to Pemba Island while others had spontaneously left the camp after refusing to return home, and decided to go elsewhere, notably Somalia and Yemen.
When they arrived in Somalia in November 2001, the UNHCR statement said “the country was in the middle of a grinding civil conflict. Somalia has been through war for the past decades and all the economic infrastructures collapsed along with the collapse of the national Somali government in 1991. Many refugees could not sustain themselves and their families in Mogadishu, nor could they get sufficient support from local or international agencies, therefore some went to other regions to seek jobs (Puntland or Somaliland) while others have been struggling financially and doing some precarious or underpaid jobs.”
It added: “Despite the daily violence and the harsh living conditions, there is little evidence of the Tanzanians being discriminated against in Mogadishu. Some of them reported in 2009 to the media that they are well received and eventually some managed to get married with Somalis.”
To enable the returnees lead decent lives, the statement said UNHCR has prepared a comprehensive reintegration package for both adults and children.
“They will receive financial support including a repatriation cash grant, funds for their initial integration process, and funds for food (4 months’ supply) and non-food items,” explained the statement.
According to UNHCR’s programme, the returnees will arrive in Zanzibar today accompanied by a UNHCR team from Somalia, including UNHCR Representative in Somalia Bruno Geddo. They will be officially welcomed by Tanzanian authorities and a team from UNHCR Tanzania officials led by Linmei Li, a senior protection officer.
They are expected to travel to Pemba tomorrow where another welcome from government authorities is planned. From there, they will finally proceed to different places of their origin.
Efforts to get details from ministries of Foreign, Home Affairs and Zanzibar governments failed yesterday. Home Affairs officials said the issue was being handled by the Foreign Affairs ministry.
Neither Foreign ministry nor Zanzibar government officials responded to our phone calls.