The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced today that it could begin repatriating Tanzanian refugees from Kenya as early as next week, now that nearly 700 of them have told the agency they are ready to go home.
In a briefing to the press today in Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said the agency had registered 680 Tanzanian refugees who want to return home to the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar from the Kenyan coastal town of Shimoni. "The number represents almost everyone still sheltering at a makeshift camp on the grounds of a fishery compound in Shimoni," the spokesman said. "It also includes community leaders who fled after violence erupted on the islands in late January."
According to the agency, most of the refugees crossed the 40 kilometres from Pemba to the Kenyan mainland aboard small fishing boats and have kept about a dozen boats moored near Shimoni. UNHCR will facilitate the return of their boats and their crews with rations of fuel but will transport passengers to the islands on a larger vessel to avoid over-crowding. Returnees will also receive a cash grant of $50 per adult and $20 per child to help with immediate needs on their arrival home. Most of the refugees are farmers or fishermen, and have missed around three months of economic activity.
UNHCR offices in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are presently working on the legal framework for the repatriation. So far, the Government of Tanzania has indicated that the agency would be able to monitor the return and reintegration on the island.
Anyone remaining in Shimoni after the conclusion of the return operation will have his or her status reviewed individually, the spokesman said.