Dadaab camps under severe strain as Somalis continue to flee to Kenya

News Stories, 27 March 2009

© UNHCR/E.Hockstein
Somali refugees wait to get water in Ifo camp. Long lines and difficulty getting ample water is a growing problem in Dadaab due to the growing numbers of Somalis fleeing to Kenya.

DADAAB, Kenya, March 27 (UNHCR) The election of a new Somali president earlier this year has failed to stem the flow of Somalis seeking refuge in the overcrowded Dadaab refugee camps in north-east Kenya.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 20,000 new arrivals have been registered in the three camps that make up the Dadaab complex Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley. Many of the new arrivals UNHCR has interviewed cite increased insecurity, especially in the middle and lower Juba regions, coupled with drought and food shortages as the main reasons for fleeing to Kenya.

Many also express pessimism about the return of peace to Somalia in the near term. Despite the election in January of a moderate Islamist, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, as Somali president, many parts of Somalia are still insecure that's why the election was held among Somali lawmakers in Djibouti.

UNHCR continues to receive and register new arrivals despite the fact that the capacity of the camps is completely overstretched. Camps designed almost two decades ago to accommodate a total of 90,000 people are currently home to more than 261,000 people, making the Dadaab complex one of the world's oldest, biggest and most congested refugee sites.

The UN refugee agency has been negotiating with the government of Kenya to provide land for the construction of new camps, but this is yet to be finalized.

"We are therefore receiving and accommodating these refugees with a lot of difficulty," said a UNHCR spokesman, adding: "It is crucial for the government to provide us with land as soon as possible, where we can build other camps and thus decongest the existing camps and prepare for more people if the current arrival trend continues."

Over half the new arrivals are women and children and many are exhausted after having travelled long distances, often using unofficial routes to avoid detection when crossing the border. Some come from as far away as Mogadishu by road and foot, an 800-kilometre journey that can take up to 16 days.

When they arrive, they must seek out family, relatives or clan members in Ifo and Dagahaley camps as UNHCR has no more land on which to give them plots to live, This results in up to 30 people living on a 12 by 13-metre plot of land.

"We fear that the situation may further deteriorate once the rainy season begins due to the shelter constraints. The next rainy season is expected in early April," the spokesman said.

The current conflict in Somalia has led to thousands of deaths and massive displacements. The Dadaab refugee camps were established in 1991 and 1992, following the collapse of the government of Siad Barre in Somalia.

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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

Somalia/Ethiopia

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.

Somalia/Ethiopia

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

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