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Kenya: new Somali influx into Mandera

Briefing notes

Kenya: new Somali influx into Mandera

11 June 2002

More than 70 new Somali asylum seekers arrived over the weekend in north-eastern Kenya's remote town of Mandera, where more than 35 refugees, mainly children, had already died from disease and malnutrition. The area hosts some 5,000 Somali refugees some of whom have lived at the decrepit sun-baked border camp since mid-April. Last Friday, refugee elders told UNHCR's representative in Kenya that the total number of deaths so far could be as high as 50.

Despite weeks of negotiations, Kenya has refused to allow UNHCR to transfer the refugees to established camps away from the border, where they could live in bearable conditions. The new arrivals say they fled to Kenya to escape a possible outbreak of fresh fighting in and around their home villages in south-west Somalia. UNHCR staff who visited Border Point 1, a makeshift camp right on the edge of Kenya's volatile border with Somalia, report that several new tukuls - the Somali shelter made from grass and sticks - have been constructed at the border camp. The security situation in the area, however, does not allow for distribution of aid or registration of refugees in the town or in the makeshift camp. Some limited assistance is, however, being provided to vulnerable groups.

Health workers say contaminated water and lack of proper food are to blame for the rising number of cases of diarrhoea and conjunctivitis. The UNHCR official who visited the area last Friday describes conditions in the camp as brutal.

By the weekend, a therapeutic feeding centre run by MSF was full, with 200 severely malnourished children admitted there. Some 30 percent of them are from the border camp, about 7 km from Mandera town. MSF has now increased the centre's capacity to enable it to cater for up to 240 children. The NGO has also begun house-to-house visits to identify malnourished cases.

Last week, the government authorised the establishment of three supplementary feeding centres in the area. Construction work at a centre close to the border camp was to start last week and was scheduled for completion by the end of this week. The construction of two other centres in Mandera town is expected to meet the supplementary feeding needs of the local population as well as refugees who are living among family and friends within the town.