Kenya sees 20,000 Somali refugees arriving in just two weeks

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 June 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is alarmed by a dramatic rise in the number of new refugee arrivals from Somalia into Kenya. Over the past two weeks the Dadaab refugee complex in northern Kenya has received more than 20,000 Somali refugees. The new arrivals are mostly farmers and animal herders from Lower Juba and the city of Dhobley.

During 2010, Dadaab received an average of 6,000 to 8,000 Somalis every month. This year the monthly average has increased to 10,000 refugees, with more than 55,000 new arrivals since the beginning of the year. The numbers are rising sharply, with some1,300 people arriving daily over the past two weeks.

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 and water.

UNHCR is working with the Kenyan authorities and other aid agencies to respond to the latest crisis, and to increased malnutrition among the new arrivals. We have decentralized the initial reception and medical screening in all three camps constituting the Dadaab refugee complex. New refugees receive high energy biscuits immediately on arrival. Additional food and other aid is promptly distributed after registration. We and our partners are working around the clock to ensure that people are registered and quickly have access to assistance.

Overcrowding at the Dadaab complex is an additional challenge. This month the camp population passed the 360,000 mark. Dadaab is the largest refugee settlement in the world, similar in size to European cities such as Nice, Florence or Bilbao.

Since 2008, UNHCR has not been able to provide plots for newly arriving refugees to live on. This is due to a lack of space. As a result, growing numbers of refugees are settling outside the camp boundaries. We welcome a recent statement by the Kenyan authorities instructing government agencies to move quickly to decongest the crowded Dadaab camps - as a new site, Ifo II, is now ready to receive refugees.

Currently, more than 50,000 refugees, mostly women and children, are living in areas that are not structured and are partly vulnerable to seasonal floods. While UNHCR and partners provide tents, latrines and water, many of the refugees continue to have very limited access to basic humanitarian services and need to walk for long distances to receive assistance.

The ongoing conflict in Somalia has led to thousands of deaths and massive displacement. There are now more than 750,000 Somali refugees living in the region, mostly in neighbouring Kenya (394,000), Yemen (187,000) and Ethiopia (110,000). Another 1.46 million are displaced within Somalia. The Dadaab refugee complex, initially designed to shelter some 90,000 refugees, was established in 1991 and 1992 following the collapse of the Siad Barre government in Somalia.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi, Kenya: Bettina Schulte, on mobile +254 72 00 95 990

  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic, on mobile +41 79 200 76 17