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Somalis in Kenya: permission for feeding centres

Briefing notes

Somalis in Kenya: permission for feeding centres

4 June 2002

Local authorities in the north-eastern Kenya town of Mandera have allowed aid workers to set up three supplementary feeding centres following the deaths of 10 Somali refugees, including eight children, from disease and malnutrition over the past 10 days. Construction work on the first feeding centre begins tomorrow (Wednesday) and is expected to be completed within a week. The first centre will cater for refugees at a nearby, makeshift camp along the volatile Kenya/Somalia border area. The camp hosts up to 5,000 Somali refugees. The other two centres, to be set up in Mandera town itself, will meet the supplementary feeding needs of the local population and refugees living with family and friends.

Health workers report that the number of severely malnourished children in the overstretched Mandera Hospital had risen to 147 by the end of last week. Some 40 per cent of them were refugees. At Border Point 1, some 800 of the 2,000 children there are moderately malnourished while 400 pregnant or lactating mothers are in urgent need of supplementary feeding. UNHCR yesterday (Monday) flew in more than a ton of medical supplies to support the local hospital.

Relief agencies have been unable to distribute aid to refugees at the temporary Border Point 1 encampment due to its close proximity to the border and the fear of attacks by armed militia from across the border, a mere 500 metres away. The Kenyan government is yet to authorise the transfer of the refugees to safer locations inside the country, despite weeks of negotiations with UNHCR. A relocation convoy organised to move the first group of 150 refugees to Dadaab refugee camp, some 500 km further south, on May 24 was called off after the government failed to give the final green light. UNHCR is still pressing for government authorisation to either move the refugees to a more secure location in the Mandera area or to existing refugee camps in Dadaab.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is very worried about reports that the local authorities in the Somali town of Bula Hawa, across the border from Mandera, told refugees at Border Point 1 that they had three days from last Sunday to return home or be forced back. Tensions in the border area remain high amid fears of renewed fighting in and around refugees' home villages.