Refugee camps in the Horn of Africa at risk

Briefing Notes, 13 January 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahečić to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is increasingly concerned about insecurity in and around camps hosting hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa.

The situation is particularly worrying, complex and tenuous in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya where the threat of improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, vehicle hijackings and banditry remains high. In addition to killings of police officers and kidnappings of aid workers, we are also seeing targeting of refugees. Two refugee leaders who had volunteered to help maintain peace and safety in the camps were murdered at the turn of the year. Both were involved in the work of Community Peace and Safety Teams (CPST) in Dadaab's Hagadera and Ifo camps respectively. The Kenyan authorities are investigating these killings along with other threats and abuses against refugees.

These events and others, since late October, are harming life for the 460,000 people who make up the population of the largest refugee settlement in the world. The ability of aid agencies to deliver services is being seriously curbed. Humanitarian workers are having to contend with restrictions on movement from Dadaab town to the camps, and police escorts for such movements have become essential.

Despite these challenges basic services such as health, food, water, sanitation, education and protection are being maintained thanks to planning and the close cooperation of partners and the refugee communities in Dadaab. Together with our partners we are also looking at the alternative ways of delivering services, including larger involvement from the host community, strengthening the involvement and responsibilities of incentive refugee workers, as well as enhancing communications with the refugee community.

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, a security incident occurred near the Dollo Ado camps on Wednesday morning. Three armed men in civilian clothing attempted to stop a vehicle belonging to an international NGO on the main access road between Dollo Ado town and Bur Amino camp, the fifth and newest refugee camp there. The vehicle, with four people on board, did not stop and the men opened fire. Fortunately no one was hurt.

This is the first such incident in the Dollo Ado area, which has been relatively calm throughout the massive displacement crisis. Although this was an isolated incident, aid agencies have restricted all but essential activities and movements in all five Dollo Ado camps, which today host some 140,000 people. These are temporary measures while the Ethiopian authorities conduct their investigation and additional steps are taken to increase security for humanitarian staff. Our teams continue to operate in the camps furthest from the border, as well as at the reception and transit centres, where newly arrived refugees from Somalia are registered and given protection and assistance.

More than 955,000 Somalis live as refugees in countries neighbouring Somalia primarily in Kenya (520,000), Yemen (203,000) and Ethiopia (186,000). A third of them fled Somalia in the course of 2011. Another 1.3 million people are internally displaced within Somalia.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi UNHCR Kenya office: Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile +254 733 995 975
  • In Dadaab, Kenya: Alex Donato on mobile +254 706 046 732 and Bettina Schulte on mobile +254 720 095 990
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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