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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Persecuted Bantus begin new life
Bantus in Kenya
Darker skinned Bantus were treated like slaves in Somalia
The first group of Somali Bantus are set to leave for the United States after years in refugee camps in northern Kenya.

Some 74 are due to leave on Tuesday and Wednesday, with an additional 150 set to travel next month.

They are the first of 12,000 refugees identified for resettlement by the US Government because of persecution back home in Somalia - mainly because of their darker skin colour and hair.

Many are illiterate, and for the last 10 days have been attending special orientation courses at a transit centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to prepare them for their new life.

"We have been training them how to use toilets, how to use a shower, how to switch on lights, and how to read time," says cultural orientation trainer Lily Sonya of the International Migration Organisation.

New life

On arrival in the United States each of the Somali Bantu families will be assigned to a charitable organisation which will help them to build a new life.

Somali Bantus
12,000 refugees
Descended from slaves shipped north by Arabs
Mostly illiterate

Resettlement agencies will assist with housing, schooling, doctor appointments, employment opportunities and other resettlement needs

Seventeen-year old Mokena Jamal says he is excited about life in America.

"I am ready for whatever awaits me. I plan to get a part time job and complete my studies," Jamal says.

After one year in the US the Somali Bantus can adjust from refugee status to permanent resident status, and then after five years they are eligible for US citizenship.

The refugees were peasant farmers in Somalia until the civil war 10 years ago, when they fled to Kenya where they have since lived in large camps.

Four years ago the US recognised them as a persecuted group eligible for resettlement.

They will be settled in various cities across the United States.

Ethnically distinct from Somalis, the Somali Bantu have always been social outcasts.

The lighter-skinned local people rejected and persecuted them because of their slave origins, their dark skin and wide features.

Even after they were freed from slavery the Bantu were denied political representation and rights to land ownership.

US accepts Somali Bantus
13 Mar 03  |  Africa

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