Somali refugees suffer as Dadaab camp populations swell to 230,000

News Stories, 23 December 2008

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
No More Room: A refugee child looks out from one of the three overcrowded camps in Dadaab.

DADAAB, Kenya, December 23 (UNHCR) The rows of emergency tents have reached the perimeter of Ifo camp in Dadaab, which means that the UN refugee agency has finally run out of space to put newly arrived Somali refugees. "All refugees have to find a place with relatives or friends, we no longer have any land to provide them," Leonidas Nkurunziza, a UNHCR field officer, said.

Some 230,000 people now live in the three adjacent camps at Dadaab, one of the world's oldest, largest and most congested refugee sites. UNHCR fears tens of thousands more will arrive throughout next year in this remote corner of north-east Kenya as the situation in their troubled country deteriorates further.

Resources in the overcrowded camps have been stretched dangerously thin and refugees and aid workers alike are anxiously waiting for additional land. There is no room to erect additional tents, and the new arrivals are forced to share already crowded shelters with other refugees.

Last Friday, UNHCR launched an international appeal for US$92 million in 2009 to ease the plight of the Somalis. As part of the programme, UNHCR and the government of Kenya are actively searching for more land to construct two new camps, which would each shelter up to 60,000 people.

The donations will also be used to provide new, improved sanitation systems and better refugee housing. Additional funds are also needed for protection and legal assistance; complementary and supplementary feeding; and provision of basic household supplies. Other activities include ensuring access to basic services through community-based projects for the Kenyan host community.

The three Dadaab refugee camps Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley were built in 1991 to host 90,000 refugees. The continuing conflict in Somalia has led to a steady inflow of refugees over the subsequent years, and this shows no sign of easing up.

More than 60,000 Somalis have crossed into Kenya so far this year. Most come from Mogadishu and the Lower Juba regions of Kismayo, Jamame and Afmadow. The crisis in Somalia is further compounded by severe drought conditions, food insecurity and periodic heavy flooding in the Horn of Africa.

Each morning, hundreds of new arrivals squat in front of the UNHCR registration offices, anxious for the staff to arrive. To meet the enormous demand, the agency has increased the size of its registration team.

The congestion in the camps is impacting every refugee. Women and children queue under the burning sun every day for water. But not everyone is lucky the quantity of water is limited and pumps are unable to handle the capacity needed every day.

"Water is the biggest priority, it is basic to life," said Dahir Hassan, who has been living in Hagadera since 1992. The water shortage is often the cause of friction. "One tap used to be used by 200 families, now we have twice that number wanting water from one tap," noted another refugee, Hassan Bashir Ahmed, adding that: "Families fight."

Hassan also said fire was a danger. The waste disposal system inside the camps can no longer support the amount of waste created, causing families to burn their garbage near their huts. Fires occur frequently and spread rapidly the water shortages make them difficult to control.

By Tessa Valk Mayerick in Dadaab, Kenya




UNHCR country pages

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Return to SomaliaPlay video

Return to Somalia

Ali and his family are ready to return to Somalia after living in Dadaab refugee camp for the past five years. We follow their journey from packing up their home in the camp to settling into their new life back in Somalia.
Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee CampPlay video

Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee Camp

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres completed a visit to Kenya and Somalia where he met with the Presidents of the two countries, as well as Somali refugees and returnees.
Kenya: A Lifetime of WaitingPlay video

Kenya: A Lifetime of Waiting

Sarah was born and raised in Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Now 21, she has become a wife and mother without ever setting foot outside the camp.