Conflict and drought force more than 50,000 Somalis to flee to Kenya this year

News Stories, 25 September 2009

© UNHCR/E.Hockstein
Helping Somalis: Newly arrived refugees wait to register in Dadaab, Kenya. The flow of arrivals shows no signs of slowing.

NAIROBI, Kenya, September 25 (UNHCR) More than 50,000 Somali civilians have fled to Kenya since the beginning of the year to escape continuing fighting and a prolonged drought.

The refugees have been arriving in north-east Kenya at an average rate of 6,400 a month, adding more pressure on the severely stretched facilities and resources in the Dadaab complex of camps, which currently host three times the population they were designed to hold.

In mid-August, UNHCR embarked on a programme aimed at decongesting Dadaab and started the relocation of some 12,900 refugees to Kakuma camp in north-west Kenya. Almost 9,600 refugees have been transported to Kakuma since then, but the camp population in Dadaab remains virtually unchanged. There are now 281,600 Somali refugees there.

A convoy of 13 buses carrying 650 refugees left Dadaab on Wednesday and arrived in Kakuma today. The relocation, which is being implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), is expected to be completed by October 7.

Meanwhile, after a prolonged drought, several parts of Kenya are experiencing torrential rains. Meteorologists have forecast that Kenya will be hit by the El Nino weather phenomenon. This raises fears that the three camps at Dadaab could become heavily flooded in the coming weeks, posing considerable health risks to the refugees.

Inside Somalia, deadly clashes between government forces and rebel groups have forced some 250,000 Somalis out of their homes in the capital, Mogadishu, since May. Most have sought refuge in the Afgooye corridor, some 30 kilometres west of the capital. These makeshift sites are now home to more than 524,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) living in squalid conditions as humanitarian organizations face enormous hurdles in reaching them.

The deteriorating security situation and prolonged drought in Somalia are forcing more people to flee into the neighbouring countries and beyond. Using unscrupulous smugglers, thousands risk their lives and take the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to reach Yemen, or across the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe.

Not all make it to their destination. Last week, 16 people died and 49 others went missing, presumed drowned in the Gulf of Aden. Since January, a total of 924 boats and more than 46,700 people have made the journey to Yemen from the Horn of Africa. So far this year 322 others are known to have drowned or gone missing at sea.

Somalia is one of the world's biggest refugee and IDP producing countries. UNHCR provides protection and assistance to more than 515,000 Somali refugees in the nearby countries of Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda. The UN estimates that there are 3.8 million Somalis in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including some 1.5 million IDPs.




UNHCR country pages

Rescue at Sea

A guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees.

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

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