Somalia + 1 more

Somalia-Tanzania: Government grants Somali refugees citizenship

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DAR ES SALAAM, 20 June (IRIN) - As part of activities to mark the World Refugee Day, the government of Tanzania is due to grant citizenship on Monday to the first 182 of 1,320 Somali refugees, a UN official said.

The representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tanzania, Chrysantus Ache, said on Friday that a naturalisation ceremony would be held at a refugee camp in Chogo village, in the northeastern Tanga region, which is home to 472 Somali refugee families.

Those to receive citizenship are from 44 families, Ache added.

He said the UNHCR and the Tanzanian government authorities were considering the applications for citizenship from a total of 1,320 Somali refugees.

The refugees, referred to as Somali Bantus, number about 3,000 in total and are said to be descendants of slaves who were captured from Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania by a ruler of Zanzibar and other slave traders and sold into Somalia.

Their forefathers were from the Zigua and Zaramo ethnic communities, who live in Tanga region and, in the early 19th Century, were taken by slavers to work on plantations and industries in Somalia.

After slavery officially ended at the turn of the century, the Somali Bantu remained in Somalia. Due to the physical landscape and the attitudes of other ethnic groups, the environment made for a difficult return home. Instead, they worked on plantations as labourers, some settled in cities and others were conscripted into the army.

According to Tanzanian government officials, the first group of about 1,000 Somali Bantus arrived in the country in 1992 after they fled Somalia when Mohammed Siad Barre's presidency ended in 1991.

A majority of Somalis are of Cushitic stock and are mainly tall, with sharp facial features while Bantus are mainly of a shorter and stockier build. The Somali Bantu, clearly distinguishable because of their features, were excluded from the traditional Somali clan network and, as a result, were often treated as second-class citizens.

Meanwhile, the Tanzanian government has renewed its call for international cooperation in shouldering the burden of refugees in host countries, saying people who flee from persecution and war in their homes need compassion and support.

"It is unfortunate international cooperation, particularly in the level of resources being made to refugees, is continually dwindling as the number of refugees keeps on rising," Omar Ramadhani Mapuri, the minister for home affairs said on the eve of the World Refugees Day.

"It is important, therefore, that while the world is reflecting on the lasting and sustainable solution to the refugee problem more resources should be made available to the displaced people, rather than leaving the burden to cripple host nations," he said.

Tanzania hosts about 500,000 refugees under the UNHCR, mostly from neighbouring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are also hundreds of refugees from Somalia and other African countries and at least 200,000 others living in villages not under the UN refugee agency.

[On the Net: Focus on the return home of Somali Bantus: http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=37866 ]

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