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Kenya: struggle to prevent Somali deaths at border

Briefing notes

Kenya: struggle to prevent Somali deaths at border

7 June 2002

UNHCR and partner agencies (MSF Spain and Trocaire) are struggling to help vulnerable Somali refugees in a ramshackle border zone camp in northern Kenya where 17 people, most of them children, have died of disease and malnutrition since June 2. Health workers say contaminated water and lack of proper food are responsible for cases of diarrhoea and conjunctivitis. MSF's newly established therapeutic feeding centre received 14 new patients on Thursday. Two children, one a refugee and the other a local child, died while being given treatment.

UNHCR estimates that there are 250 refugee families classified as vulnerable in Mandera town and the nearby makeshift camp, dubbed Border Point One, which is located a mere 500 metres from the border. In Mandera town, there are 100 vulnerable families. A number of the families are headed by elderly women and many include orphans and disabled persons

UNHCR staff report that refugee children can be seen everywhere in Mandera town scavenging for food, begging and trying to find work to help their families survive. Women often have to walk a fair distance in search of firewood. Refugee leaders fear that this makes them vulnerable to abuse.

The situation on the border has calmed over the past two days, with no gunfire reported in the area. However, UNHCR continues to insist on authorisation to move the Somali refugees away from the border to existing refugee camps deeper inside Kenya. To date, the Kenyan authorities have declined permission to move the group.