Last Tanzanian refugees scheduled to fly home from Kenya

UNHCR Tuesday began repatriating the last group of Tanzanian refugees who fled to Kenya earlier this year. The transfer should be completed by Wednesday.

DADAAB CAMP, Kenya, Nov. 6 (UNHCR) - The U.N. refugee agency Tuesday began repatriating the last group of Tanzanians who fled to Kenya earlier this year to escape civil disturbances in their country.

A UNHCR-chartered aircraft was scheduled to make two flights from the Dadaab Camp in north-eastern Kenya to Pemba Island, with another two flights scheduled for Wednesday from the camp to Zanzibar. The flights are to fly home the last 86 Tanzanians still in the camp.

More than 2,000 people sympathetic to the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), left Pemba and Zanzibar islands by boat for the Kenyan coastal town of Shimoni after CUF supporters and Tanzanian security forces clashed last January 27.

In May, 667 of the refugees volunteered to repatriate from Shimoni following assurances from the Tanzanian government that they would not be prosecuted for their involvement in the demonstrations. The rest were taken to the Dadaab Camp and since then at least 194 people left the site voluntarily and travelled to Mogadishu, Somalia.

UNHCR is not offering any material assistance to the refugees who voluntarily left Kenya, while those leaving under the auspices of the agency receive a $50 grant to help them with basic needs when they arrive home.

The refugees going home this week are part of the group of 505 that chose to move to the Dadaab Camp in May rather than return home. In September, when UNHCR operated two direct flights to the islands from Dadaab, just 49 refugees decided to repatriate. With the four flights this week, that figure will climb to 224 people.

UNHCR maintained a full-time presence on Pemba Island for four months after the May repatriation, and staff who continue to monitor the reintegration process say the situation is stable and that returnees have not been harassed or arrested.

In October, opposition CUF leaders said the government had kept its promise not to prosecute the demonstrators and called on the last refugees to return home. UNHCR is working closely with the government, the CUF and returnee families in carrying out the operation.