Over the past few weeks refugees fleeing violence in parts of Sudan and South Sudan have been arriving in Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya in large numbers, and aid agencies fear the camp’s capacity could soon be exceeded.
Kakuma was initially designed to accommodate 100,000 people, and currently accommodates some 91,000, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“We have been seeing rising inflows of refugees since the violence began both in parts of Sudan and South Sudan, and we are following closely the situation in the two countries. Our worry is that Kakuma could reach its full capacity by June , unless the violence is stopped,” Emanuel Nyabera, spokesperson for UNHCR, told IRIN.
An estimated 4,500 refugees have crossed into Kenya since the beginning of the year, many of them from South Sudan and Sudan, according to the UNHCR.
“Since the military clashes began, 500-800 refugees from both Sudan and South Sudan have been streaming into Kakuma every week over the last few weeks,” said Martin Pepela, refugee programme manager for local NGO Refugee Consortium of Kenya.
Providing shelter for the newly arriving refugees has been the greatest challenge. Many have been forced to stay at the camp’s reception area, Pepela told IRIN.
“There is no shelter for the newly arriving refugees and this has been a big challenge.”
UNHCR has begun talks with the Kenyan government on the setting up of a new refugee camp capable of hosting 100,000 people. Nyabera said a site near Kakuma had already been identified.
However, negotiations between the government and UNHCR on an extension of the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya took years to finalize, and officials say it might be a while before any new site in Kakuma is ready.
“Proposals have been made [for an alternative site] and once the host community agrees and the government approves, the whole process of preparing the site will begin but it will take time,” Omar Dhadho, head of protection at the department of refugee affairs within the Ministry of Immigration and Registration of Persons, told IRIN.
One source of refugees is South Sudan’s Jonglei State. At least 140,000 people have been affected by inter-ethnic conflict there, and some civilians have fled across the border to Kenya, according to aid workers.
Some of those now in Kakuma fled from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, Sudanese states on the border with South Sudan where rebels have been fighting government troops since July in the case of South Kordofan, and September in the case of Blue Nile. Earlier this month forces from both countries engaged in direct conflict. South Sudan has consistently denied Khartoum’s accusations that it is supporting the rebels across the border.
In all, some 140,000 civilians have fled South Kordofan and Blue Nile, mostly to refugee sites in South Sudan