Refugees return home to Tanzania's Pemba island

Ninety refugees from Tanzania's Pemba and Zanzibar islands flew home on September 26 from Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the first large group to return home since May, 2001.

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DAR ES SALAAM, Sept. 26 (UNHCR) - A group of 90 refugees from Tanzania's Pemba and Zanzibar islands flew home on September 26 from Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the first large group to return home since May. The refugees flew home aboard a UNHCR-chartered plane, after receiving a US$50 grant each to help them with basic needs on arrival.

The group was among more than 2,000 people who fled Pemba and Zanzibar for nearby Kenya in the wake of violent clashes, on 27 January 2001, between supporters of the opposition Civic United Front and Tanzanian security forces. The clashes left several people dead and scores of others injured. Fearing reprisals in the days that followed, the refugees fled by sea in fishing boats and dhows to the Kenyan coastal town of Shimoni, some 40 miles away.

In May, 2001, UNHCR helped 667 of the refugees sail home from Shimoni, following assurances from the government of Tanzania that they would not be prosecuted as a group for their involvement in the demonstrations. Other refugees have returned home on their own. Those who did not want to go back were transferred from the temporary site in Shimoni to Dadaab camp in north-eastern Kenya.

Since the return operation in May, only a few individuals have requested help back to the islands. But the number asking for transport assistance has increased recently, leading to the September 26 flight. If the trend in repatriation requests continues, UNHCR plans to schedule regular direct flights from Dadaab, which still houses some 260 Tanzanian refugees.

UNHCR has maintained a full-time presence on Pemba island since returns began, and staff there say that the situation is stable and that returnees have not been harassed or arrested. UNHCR is working closely with the government, the opposition Civic United Front and returnee families on the island.