UNHCR to move Somali refugees further inland in Kenya

News Stories, 14 May 2002

© UNHCR/Geographic Information and Mapping Unit

MANDERA, Kenya, May 14 (UNHCR) More than 10,000 Somali refugees who have been encamped in the Kenyan border town of Mandera for nearly three weeks are expected to be moved to a temporary site 10 km to the south in the coming days.

"We're trying to move them to a safer area," said UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler at a press briefing Tuesday. "Also, by grouping all of them in the same vicinity, we hope to make the distribution of aid easier."

To cope with increasing pressures at the border, UNHCR today flew three of its staff to Mandera from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Four more are due tomorrow. The refugee agency is also preparing relief supplies including medicine, high-energy biscuits, water tanks and tents to be airlifted to the remote town later this week.

The Somali refugees started arriving in Mandera after clan fighting broke out in mid-April in and around the town of Bula Hawa, just over the border in Somalia. By late last week, the town of 20,000 was reportedly empty as a result of continued fighting between rival sub-clans. People from nearby Somali towns, including Luug and Geedweyne, also fled for Mandera last week.

Comprising mainly women, children and the elderly, the refugees are generally in good health. But cases of diarrhoea and malaria have been reported. Over the weekend, more than 50 children suffering from diarrhoea were admitted to Mandera hospital. Three of them later died. By late yesterday, some 29 of them were still in hospital.

UNHCR is continuing negotiations with the government of Kenya to allow the refugees to remain temporarily around Mandera in the hope that the situation in their home areas will improve soon enough to enable them to return home. The refugees themselves do not wish to move and prefer to wait nearby in the expectation that the fighting in their home areas will soon subside.

The Kenyan government is, however, hesitant to allow the establishment of a refugee camp in or around Mandera and has recommended the transfer of refugees to either of the two existing refugee camps in Kenya.

At the height of the influx of Somali refugees into Kenya in 1992, UNHCR set up a string of camps along the border, including in Mandera. These camps were later closed and refugees either repatriated or transferred to Dadaab refugee camp, some 400 km further south.

Kenya hosts some 250,000 refugees, of whom 140,000 are Somalis.