UNHCR concerned about deaths and possible "humanitarian crisis" in conflict-hit Kenyan camp

News Stories, 24 June 2003

© UNHCR/B.Press
Food distribution at Kenya's Kakuma camp has been disrupted by recent clashes between refugees and residents in Kakuma.

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 24 (UNHCR) Eleven people have died in nearly a week of fighting between local residents and Sudanese refugees in Kakuma camp, north-western Kenya. UNHCR officials today expressed grave concern about the violence and loss of lives, and warned that the disruption of services delivered by aid agencies could lead to a "humanitarian crisis".

"We are not in a position to distribute food, provide water and health services due to security concerns," said Cosmas Chanda, the UN refugee agency's Head of Sub-Office Kakuma. "If this violence is not stopped, then we are going to have a humanitarian crisis."

The refugee agency does not even have access to the main hospital that serves the sprawling refugee camp, which is home to more than 86,000 refugees, of whom about 65,000 are from Sudan.

In addition, the UNHCR transit point in Lokichoggio (near the Sudan border), where asylum seekers report on arrival in Kenya, is currently not functioning because of tension between the Sudanese and the local community. There are 335 Sudanese at the centre who cannot be moved to the camps because of lack of security.

Although the Kenyan government sent a contingent of the paramilitary General Services Unit to Kakuma over the weekend, calm has still not been restored. Just Monday morning, two more Sudanese refugees and an Ethiopian refugee were killed.

Violence erupted last Wednesday in a dispute over cattle. Both communities keep cattle, and local Turkana cattle-owners were outraged when a missing cow was found in the homestead of one of the Sudanese refugees in the camp.

In circumstances that are not yet clear, a Turkana man was killed last Wednesday. "The Turkana followed a trail of blood and found the body inside the refugee camp," said Arun Sala-Ngarm, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Kenya. That led to an attack on the camp on Friday, in which two Sudanese refugees were killed by gunfire from AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles.

Further armed attacks by local Turkana people on the unarmed refugees over the weekend and on Monday brought the total death toll to eight Sudanese refugees, one Ethiopian refugee and two local Turkanas.

On Tuesday, a delegation of senior Kenyan government officials and UNHCR Deputy Representative Sala-Ngarm flew from Nairobi to Kakuma to try to resolve the problem. They held discussions with the local community and refugee leaders.

The most seriously affected area of the camp is the section known as Kakuma III. More than 6,000 refugees from that area have taken refuge with other communities in Kakuma I, causing overcrowding, which worries UNHCR officials.

The population of Kakuma refugee camp is almost double that of the local Turkana community, and there have been periodic skirmishes ever since the camp was opened in 1992. The main source of friction is competition for resources, especially grazing land in the desert-like landscape.