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Refugees from Pemba and Zanzibar islands will go back if tensions ease: UNHCR

Refugees from Pemba and Zanzibar islands will go back if tensions ease: UNHCR

Tanzanian refugees who fled to Kenya from the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar have told the United Nations refugee agency that they would be ready to return home if talks between the Government and the opposition lead to a joint declaration that would ease tensions on the islands, agency officials said today.

According to a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), refugees made their intentions known during a meeting yesterday with UNHCR staff and Kenyan officials at a temporary site in Shimoni. The refugees said that a joint declaration resulting from the discussions between the Tanzanian Government and the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) would be the signal they were waiting for in order to go back home.

UNHCR was waiting for a formal agreement to start making preparations for the return, spokesman Kris Janowski said, adding that there was renewed calm in Pemba and Zanzibar since clashes between opposition supporters and security forces last January had driven 2,400 people into Kenya. Some 1,300 refugees remain in Shimoni, while the rest have moved in with friends and relatives among local inhabitants, he said.

According to UNHCR, Kenyan authorities have agreed to delay until Thursday the planned controversial transfer of the refugees to Dadaab camp in the north-east of the country. The operation was originally slated to start on 19 April, after Kenyan officials rejected establishing an alternative site closer to the coast.

The UN agency has made arrangements for a transfer to Dadaab, including supplying the refugees with medical care and food during the 600-kilometre journey. UNHCR has indicated, however, that it will not transfer any refugees who do not volunteer to go, noting that so far no one from the group has signed up for the transfer.