As Somalis stream into Kenya, UNHCR races to fill a new refugee camp

News Stories, 3 August 2011

© UNHCR/B.Bannon
These men are building a vital latrine for refugees relocated from self-settled areas of Ifo to the new Ifo Extension in Dadaab, Kenya.

IFO EXTENSION, Kenya, Aug 3 (UNHCR) Henok Ochalla knows he is in for the race of his life. In order to begin to keep up with the vast influx of refugees that continue to arrive in northern Kenya's Dadaab area from conflict-torn and famine-stricken Somalia, the 39-year-old emergency response coordinator for UNHCR must erect a minimum of 300 tents enough to accommodate 1,500 families (7,500 people) every day.

UNHCR and its partners are moving thousands of newly arrived refugees from overcrowded and unsafe areas of Dadaab to a new extension of the sprawling refugee camp complex. The goal is to provide accommodation for a minimum of 90,000 refugees by the end of November.

Work on the so-called Ifo Extension is well under way even as UNHCR and its partners develop a second location, which will also relieve overcrowding at Dadaab, which was designed to handle 90,000 people when it opened in 1991 and now struggles to cope with a population of some 400,000.

A bitter calculus is at work. More than 73,000 asylum-seekers have arrived over the past two months. They are fleeing conflict and drought that has affected as many as 10 million people in the Horn of Africa.

After recently receiving final approval from the Kenyan government, teams of workers from UNHCR partners now race to erect new accommodation, provide latrines and construct water reservoirs. All this is being accomplished even as UNHCR and its partners simultaneously relocate refugees to the new facilities.

After more than a week, UNHCR is well on the way to meeting its target. Already enough tents to house roughly 10,000 people have been set up. UNHCR partner Oxfam (UK) has installed three water storage tanks with a capacity of 10,000 litres each. Médecins sans Frontières (Spain) continues to provide emergency health services for the extension.

"We are doing A-level work," Ochalla said. "But we need to do A+ work. Everyone is overstretched. But we need to continue."

The process of relocation is also a challenging task. Each family that walks into the relocation area must have a minimum of four family members in order to get a tent. If not, the construction effort will not meet its target of 1,500 per day. Families come into the relocation centre a makeshift tent in the vast desert and each has a unique narrative.

At the relocation centre, one man complains that he does not want to live in the same tent with his mother-in-law. Ochalla tells him that this is no time for vanity.

An old woman hobbles in with her two children. She is frail and has walked for miles to enjoy a new home and Ochalla cannot find it in his heart to let her down. "She came a long way for a new home," he said, as he escorted her to her new shelter.

By Greg Beals in Ifo Extension, Kenya




Somalia Emergency: Refugees move into Ifo Extension

The UN refugee agency has moved 4,700 Somali refugees from the outskirts of Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex into the Ifo Extension site since 25 July 2011. The ongoing relocation movement is transferring 1,500 people a day and the pace will soon increase to 2,500 to 3,000 people per day.

The refugees had arrived in recent weeks and months after fleeing drought and conflict in Somalia. They settled spontaneously on the edge of Ifo camp, one of three existing camps in the Dadaab complex, that has been overwhelmed by the steadily growing influx of refugees.

The new Ifo Extension site will provide tented accommodation to 90,000 refugees in the coming months. Latrines and water reservoirs have been constructed and are already in use by the families that have moved to this site.

Somalia Emergency: Refugees move into Ifo Extension

Crisis in Horn of Africa

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Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.3: UNHCR's Air and Sea Relief Delivery Operation

Rushing emergency relief supplies to tens of thousands of displaced people in the strife-hit Timor-Leste has been a top priority for the UN refugee agency.

On Monday, the first phase of the air and sea operation ferrying in 200 metric tonnes of tents, blankets, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets, was completed.

Last week four Antonov-12 flights flew in 56 tonnes of supplies, and on Monday 12 June, a freighter crossed the Timor Sea from Darwin, loaded with 150 tonnes of supplies, flown in earlier from UNHCR's regional Middle East stockpiles in Jordan to the northern Australian city. There are now shelter supplies on the ground for some 17,000 people.

Working closely with partners on the ground, UNHCR's emergency team is already improving living conditions at the crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around the capital Dili, and starting to establish planned camps.

Security is still a major concern for the displaced, traumatised by the house burning, looting and violence. UNHCR urgently needs US$4.8 million for its Timor-Leste emergency operation.

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In mid-June UNHCR extended its emergency relief operation in Timor-Leste to include tens of thousands of people who fled violence in the capital Dili for districts in the countryside. An estimated 79,000 displaced people are in outlying districts with some 72,000 displaced in Dili.

The UN refugee agency has delivered shelter materials and emergency supplies to easterners and westerners in Hera village, 25 kilometres to the east of Dili. Most of the inhabitants of Hera are westerners and have fled their homes and taken to the hills. A smaller group of easterners have moved to the safety of a fenced naval compound, where they have been joined by easterners who fled Dili. UNHCR has also delivered shelter materials to Metinaro, 40 minutes outside of Dili, as well as to Auturo Island.

Despite sporadic violence, UNHCR continues to help the displaced who say they are still too scared to return to their homes and will wait in temporary shelters until the crisis ends.

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Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

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