DADAAB, Kenya, July 1 (UNHCR) – As thousands of Somali refugees continue streaming across the border into Kenya, the mounting pressure on the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex saw violence erupt there this week.
Rioting broke out on Thursday when Kenyan police sought to disperse a crowd that was protesting against an attempt to demolish illegal structures around a food distribution point in Dadaab’s Dagahley camp. Tear gas was used, and, later, live ammunition. UNHCR’s information is that two refugees were killed and around a dozen injured.
The security situation was still being evaluated late Thursday. “Sadly, this incident is symptomatic of the pressures at the camp amid overcrowding, compounded by the very high number of arrivals we have been seeing recently from Somalia,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said on Friday.
More than 61,000 Somalis have sought safety in Kenya this year, including 27,000 since June 6, bringing the total number of people living in Dadaab’s three camps to more than 370,000. This makes it the world’s largest refugee camp complex.
The new arrivals have reported to three new emergency centres to be registered and screened. About 1,300 are arriving every day, mainly farmers and cattle herders from Lower Juba and the town of Dhobley. Many have fled their homes because of severe drought and lack of food.
UNHCR is concerned both at the overcrowding at Dadaab and the health of the new arrivals. “The physical condition of these people is a matter of significant concern to us. Many families have walked for days, and are exhausted and desperate for food, water and other aid,” said Fafa Olivier Attidzah, head of the UNHCR sub-office at Dadaab.
One of the new arrivals, 69-year-old Husane, said he and his family had to walk for more than three weeks to reach Kenya from their home in Soko, southern Somalia, where it has not rained for three years. “Others are on their way because there is no food,” he said, adding: “I have lost all my livestock.”
“Some of my children were crying for food but I told them to be patient. Let’s keep walking, I told them, we’ll get there,” his wife, Mathina, said.
UNHCR is working with the Kenyan authorities and other aid agencies to respond to the fresh influx. Malnutrition is a particular concern and all new arrivals are given high energy biscuits. Additional food and other aid is distributed after registration.
Finding space for the refugees is becoming more and more difficult and growing numbers of refugees are settling outside the camp boundaries. A recent directive for government agencies to decongest the Dadaab camps has yet to be implemented. A new site, Ifo II, is now ready to receive refugees but official authorization to open the camp has yet to be granted.
Currently, more than 50,000 refugees, mostly women and children, are living in unregulated areas, some of which are vulnerable to seasonal floods. While UNHCR and its partners provide tents, latrines and water, many of the refugees have limited access to basic humanitarian services.
Nuria, a widow with six children, fled to Dadaab with money raised by the imam in her village. “The journey was difficult. When we had run out of food and money we had to beg from people along the way,” she said. She and her children were attacked by bandits and their belongings stolen.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia has also seen a big influx, with 55,000 Somali refugees arriving since the start of this year. More than a quarter of them are malnourished, while among children this rate is higher at about three-in-five. UNHCR has introduced a blanket feeding programme for children below the age of five. Urgent funding is needed to deal with this situation.
The two existing camps in south-east Ethiopia, Bokolmanyo and Malkadida, accommodate more than 70,000 refugees and have reached full capacity. To provide protection and shelter for new arrivals, a third camp in the south-east was opened last Friday at Kobe, some 50 kilometres the town of Dollo Ado.
UNHCR has transported 7,500 Somali refugees from the transit centre at Dollo Ado to the camp at Kobe, which can accommodate up to 20,000 people. However, there is significant congestion at the reception and transit centres and Kobe is expected to reach full capacity in a matter of days. The Ethiopian authorities have allocated land for a fourth camp near Kobe.
“Together with our partners we are rapidly expanding basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation services, a health centre and basic communal facilities. Schools and other facilities and services are also planned,” Edwards said.
There are now more than 750,000 Somali refugees living in the region, mostly in neighbouring Kenya (405,000), Yemen (187,000) and Ethiopia (110,000). Another 1.46 million are displaced within Somalia.
By Emmanuel Nyabera in Dadaab, Kenya and Andrej Mahecic in Geneva