Polio fears in Ethiopian refugee camps

Briefing Notes, 24 January 2012

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 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is very concerned at reports this week of two suspected poliomyelitis cases among Somali refugees at Dollo Ado's Bur Amino camp in Ethiopia, and three suspected cases from the surrounding host community. Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children.

In the five refugee camps in Dollo Ado we are working closely with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, local government partners, WHO, UNICEF, MSF and other health partners to coordinate the response. The immediate priority is to confirm the outbreak, and samples have been collected and sent to Addis Ababa for laboratory confirmation. Once the strain of virus is identified, the appropriate vaccine will be dispatched to Dollo Ado for a mass vaccination campaign in the camps and surrounding communities.

In addition a nationwide anti-polio campaign in all zones of the country is scheduled to start on January 27th and will be expanded to include all refugee camps.

UNHCR and health agencies have also strengthened surveillance. At community level, mobilization and sensitization efforts have been stepped up to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of polio and ways to prevent transmission. As the polio virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, our partners providing water and sanitation are being engaged to ensure delivery of adequate services.

Some 143,000 Somalis are currently sheltered in five Ethiopian camps in Dollo Ado. More than 100,000 arrived in 2011 alone. After Dadaab in northeastern Kenya, Dollo Ado is now the second largest refugee settlement in the Horn of Africa. Almost a million Somalis live as refugees in the region while another 1.36 million are internally displaced.

For further information on these topics, please contact:

  • In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher, mobile +251 911 208 901
  • In Nairobi (UNHCR regional hub): Vivian Tan, mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic, mobile +41 79 200 7617
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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

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New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

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