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Somali Bantus gain Tanzanian citizenship in their ancestral land

News Stories, 3 June 2009

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
In Somalia, Bantu children were denied education for decades, but this Somali Bantu boy, a new Tanzanian citizen, attends school in Chogo settlement in northeastern Tanzania.

CHOGO, Tanzania, June 3 (UNHCR) Some 300 years after their ancestors were taken from here to be sold as slaves, almost 1,300 Somali Bantu refugees are now full citizens of Tanzania.

A further 1,500 refugees in Chogo settlement, in the north-eastern coastal region of Tanga, are still in the process of getting naturalized.

Working and living alongside the local population, many of the Somali Bantu refugees and new citizens can trace their origins to this area of the country, from where their ancestors were transported as slaves. The refugees returned in the early 1990s fleeing civil war and the collapse of Siad Barre's regime in Somalia.

Back then, tens of thousands of Somalis travelled on overcrowded and rickety dhows to the Kenyan harbour of Mombasa. A small group of refugees of Bantu origin made their way even further south, to Tanga, reversing the path their ancestors had taken more than three centuries ago.

Ramadhani Abdalah, a Tanzanian Zigua farmer, remembers very well the day the refugees arrived in Tanga.

"I heard about refugees before, but when they came, it was my first time to actually see a refugee," he now recalls. "I was so surprised. They were talking in the same language as I do, Zigua, but they came from Somalia."

Ramadhani lives in one of the neighbouring villages of Chogo settlement where he prepares land for planting. He is hired by a former Somali Bantu farmer and is paid 12,000 Tanzanian shillings (about US$9) for each acre of land he clears.

At first the government of Tanzania, with assistance from UNHCR, hosted the Somali refugees in Mkuyu camp, also in Tanga region. In March 2003, more than 3,000 refugees were transferred from there to Chogo, a newly-constructed settlement some 80 kilometres away, in a move towards naturalizing the Somali Bantus who wished to stay.

Upon arrival in Chogo, each refugee family received more than 2.5 acres (about one hectare) of land, to farm and to build a home. With the help of UNHCR, working with the Tanzanian authorities and the Tanzanian non-governmental organization, Relief to Development Society, a school, health centre and market were constructed.

Since 2005, the new citizens and the 1,500 refugees awaiting citizenship have been supporting themselves and living together with the surrounding communities.

Haji Sefu Ali, one of the elders in Chogo, proudly shows off his farm. "In Chogo, we have named the villages after places in Somalia," he says. "We are tilling land, raising cattle and chicken and are taking care of ourselves."

Life has been a struggle, adds Fatouma, his neighbour and a grandmother of three, but "today, we are citizens of Tanzania. My granddaughters could even become president one day. In Somalia, for a Bantu, that would not be possible."

By Brendan Bannon and Eveline Wolfcarius
in Chogo, Tanzania




Finding a Home on Ancestral Land

Somali Bantu refugees gaining citizenship in Tanzania

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.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

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