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The past ten years has been a living nightmare for several Zanzibar refugees who have been stuck in the war-torn country of Somalia, living in fear in what is considered the most dangerous city in the world, Mogadishu. Fortunately for those refugees, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as many get to start their lives over by returning to their homeland this past week.
Thirty-eight refugees boarded a United Nations aircraft on Friday after escaping a political war a decade ago. “The returning families have been living in Mogadishu for over 10 years and have now decided that it is time for them to return, their bags are loaded, they are saying their farewells to Somalia, and we will be off soon to Zanzibar,” said Andreas Needham, spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Somalia.
Over 2,000 civilians of Zanzibar, the capital of Tanzania, fled the country in 2000 and went to Kenya, where they were then placed in the biggest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab. While some stayed in the refugee camp, others returned to Zanzibar and a few hundred migrated to Somalia and worked low paying jobs just to survive and feed their families. For those that went to Somalia, most lived in unsanitary and impoverished conditions, hiding out in abandoned, crumbling homes while others lived on the streets and sought shelter wherever they could find it.
In recent years, the United Nations Refugee Agency (known as the UNHCR) stepped in and gave aid to those living in Somalia. “Twelve of the original 23 families who approached UNHCR are being voluntarily repatriated,” the UNHCR added in a statement, noting that, “some of the men who remain have married Somali women.” The remainder of the refugees left in Somalia is staying there to see how the war-torn country of Tanzania finds peace before they decide to return to their home country.
According to the UNHCR, “the Zanzibaris’ journey was the opposite of almost a million Somalis who have fled to other countries in the region — the Horn of Africa nation generates the third highest number of refugees in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq.”
A total of approximately 1.36 million refugees from all over Africa have been forced to leave their homelands and are displaced in Somalia.
For the families that are returning home to Zanzibar, they are due to meet with government officials and are expected to receive help in rebuilding their lives. Many more are expected to return in the near future as positive results will be seen from the end of the political war and the election of a new president of Zanzibar.
Image Courtesy of IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/TURKEY