KENYA-SOMALIA: Dadaab grappling with “dramatic” refugee situation

NAIROBI, 6 August 2009 (IRIN) – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is to support livelihood and environmental protection programmes for local Kenyan communities in Dadaab, says a senior UN official.

The Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo camps in Dadaab comprise the largest refugee site in the world. As of 5 July, the site hosted an estimated 284,306 refugees, mainly from Somalia. This number was triple the designated capacity.

“We have witnessed in the recent months arrivals [in] the region [of] 5,000 per month, creating a situation that is extremely dramatic,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said.

“In the meetings I had with the local communities, we presented our programme of investment and support to the local community,” he said. “UNHCR by itself has mobilised US$6 million especially in areas related to environmental degradation and livelihoods of the Kenyan local communities in Fafi and Lagadera.”

Relations between refugees and the surrounding host population often sour with increasing insecurity and environmental degradation being blamed on the refugee influx, aid workers say.

Dadaab, some 90km from the Kenya-Somalia border, has seen a large number of asylum-seekers fleeing years of conflict in Somalia.

Guterres said there was a need to adequately screen people coming into Dadaab to improve safety for the refugees and locals, and to address Kenya’s security concerns.

“UNHCR is preparing a comprehensive strategy for decongestion, rehabilitation and security in Dadaab,” he said, adding that immediate priorities were in health, water and sanitation.

A measles outbreak was reported in Hagadera camp in July. Earlier, a cholera outbreak had been reported.

In a briefing note, UNHCR said the inability to provide adequate shelter for refugees had exposed them to exploitation by their hosts. For example, cases of sexual- and gender-based violence reported this year had increased by 30 percent.

To decongest Dadaab, UNHCR plans to move some refugees to Kakuma in the northwest, along the border with Sudan, and hopes to secure additional land in Dadaab. Kakuma already hosts some 45,017 refugees and has inadequate shelter.


Photo: UNHCR
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres said there was a need to adequately screen people coming into Dadaab to improve safety for the refugees and locals

The first group of 12,900 refugees from Dadaab is expected to go to Kakuma – about 1,000km away – before the rainy season. “As soon as the minimum logistic and reception conditions are established, the movement to Kakuma can start,” Guterres said.

The meteorological department in Kenya has predicted el-Niño rains that could hinder refugee movements.

The Dadaab programme, including funds for local communities and the upgrading of the present refugee sites as well as new site infrastructure, is estimated to require $92 million.

“The host community is struggling especially with the high food prices and drought,” Kellie Leeson, the International Rescue Committee director for Kenya, told IRIN recently.

Leeson said the camps were not officially demarcated and some of the long-term refugees had purchased livestock, fuelling tensions over pasture and water.

“The challenge [in Dadaab] is so big that it needs a combination of solutions,” Guterres said. “It has been possible until now to provide the minimum but a lot of upgrading of humanitarian systems needs to be done.”

[original]

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