PRESS RELEASES / ARTICLE
KENYA -RELOCATION OF SOMALI BANTUS FROM DADAAB TO KAKUMA ENDS. IOM (October 2002) The relocation of Somali Bantus from Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border, to Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya has ended. The last convoy transporting 302 Somali Bantus arrived on Sunday in Kakuma to be met by a cheering crowd. Over a three-month period IOM organised 23 road convoys to assist a total of 11,755 refugees on a three-day, 1,500-km journey across Kenya. 499 particularly vulnerable refugees -- pregnant women, infants, elderly and those too sick to travel by road -- were flown on an IOM chartered flight, which completed 10 rotations between Dadaab and Kakuma. The movement completion on September 27 marks the first step in the largest US African refugee resettlement in history. IOM started the relocation of Somali Bantus on 27 June. Logistics assistant and cultural orientation trainer Sasha Chanoff said, "The movements were more successful than expected. We will now begin medical exams in October and organize cultural orientation courses soon thereafter. Topics will include US laws, employment, cultural adjustment, as well as additional classroom time for parenting issues, youth topics and survival literacy." Flights to the US are estimated to begin in the first months of 2003.
In Kakuma, IOM and the NGO World Vision have built 2,500 mud brick shelters. 200 hundred additional shelters are being constructed for the final arrivals, who will spend the first few nights in UNHCR-issued tents. Approximately 500 Somali Bantus referred to the US Refugee Program remain in Dadaab. IOM will move these residual cases once UNHCR conducts interviews and confirms their identities. The Somali Bantu are living reminders of the once widespread and lucrative Indian Ocean slave trade. Their history as a distinct group began around the turn of the 18th century when the sultan of Zanzibar and other slave lords captured their forefathers in Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique and sold them into slavery in Somalia. After slavery was gradually abolished in the 19th and early 20th century, the Bantu settled into Somalia's fertile southern region along the Juba River and maintained their farming tradition. But their origins, as well as distinct ethnic and cultural differences, kept them a marginalized minority from ethnic Somalis. Discrimination and poverty prevented access to schooling, land ownership and every day rights. In 1991, as Somalia descended into chaos and civil war, hostile militias raided Bantu settlements. Isolated,
without any clan affiliation or other means of protection, they suffered widespread massacres and rape. Thousands fled on foot to neighbouring Kenya. The most vulnerable, the elderly, the young and the sick died en route of hunger, thirst and disease. Once in Kenya, they settled along with scores of thousands of ethnic Somali refugees in Dadaab, a parched, inhospitable windswept landscape of scrub bushes and nomadic camel herders, which lies 60 miles south of the Kenyan Somali border. The Bantus again found themselves among a Somali majority and were subject to discrimination and violence.
Bandits regularly attacked the men and raped women who foraged the bush for firewood. And, just as in Somalia, the Bantus were the ones to perform all the heavy labor and dirty work. In this final convoy to Kakuma one Bantu explained, "Now that we are leaving Dadaab the Somalis are saying, 'who will build our latrines?'" In 1999, the United States designated these exiled Somali Bantu a priority group for resettlement. But because of its proximity to Somalia, and its alleged terrorist links, the Dadaab camps are considered too dangerous for US immigration officials to visit. For more information, please contact: Sonya Laurence Green, Information Officer UN Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator's Office for Somalia Tel: (254 2) 448434 House: (254 2) 582898 Fax: (254 2) 448439 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Julia Spry-Leverton, Communication Officer UNICEF Somalia Tel: (254 2) 623958 Fax: (254 2) 623965 Mobile: (072) 712 840 Email: email@example.com