Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Somali Bantus off to US
NAIROBI, 20 MAY 2003(IRIN)- - The first group of Somali Bantus who have been living in a Kenyan refugee camp for the past decade, are due to start their final journey to the US this week where they will be resettled, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.

In a statement, UNHCR said this was the beginning of one of the biggest resettlement operations to take place from Africa, in which some 11,800 Somali Bantus will be resettled in the US.

The first batch, consisting of 74 Somalis, were due to leave Kenya on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Another 150 are expected to travel before mid-June, the statement said.

The resettlement programme has been jointly conducted by UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). The trip follows weeks of cultural orientation given by the IOM, which is in charge of relocation.

"The programme was designed to teach them how to go through airport security and how to cope with cold weather when they get to their new homes, among other topics," the statement said.

The Somali Bantus - a minority group whose physical, cultural and linguistic characteristics distinguish them from the Cushitic majority in Somalia - were considered for resettlement in the US, because they faced difficult circumstances in their country where they were treated as second class citizens.

In the early 1990s, during civil war in Somalia, more than 10,000 fled to refugee camps in Kenya, where discrimination against them by major Somali clans continued. END

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