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Kenya: growing fears for the safety of Somali refugees

Briefing notes

Kenya: growing fears for the safety of Somali refugees

17 May 2002

UNHCR this morning airlifted relief supplies to some 10,000 Somali refugees who have fled to the remote north-eastern border town of Mandera, Kenya, to escape weeks of clan warfare in towns and villages just over the border. Amid growing fears for the safety of the refugees, two planes flew medicines, high-energy biscuits, water tanks, tents, plastic sheets and vehicles to the distant town on the border junction between Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Another plane carrying mainly medical supplies was sent from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, yesterday (Thursday). Three additional UNHCR staff also arrived in the town this morning on board the airlift flights to strengthen emergency teams there.

On Wednesday, four refugees were killed by stray gunfire as fighting flared again between rival sub-clans in the town of Bula Hawa, just opposite Mandera on the Somalia side of the border. The dead refugees were among a group of several thousand currently living in makeshift shelters at Border Point 1, located a few kilometres along the Kenya border from Mandera town. Seven other refugees at the site suffered shrapnel wounds. UNHCR is shocked by the killing of innocent civilians who were seeking safety from more than four weeks of fighting in their home areas.

We are now in urgent discussions with the government of Kenya on transferring the refugees, either to a temporary site away from the insecure border area or to an existing refugee camp at Dadaab, some 400 km to the south.

We are very concerned about the health situation in Mandera and have given medicine to support the local hospital, which still has more than 12 children among some 50 who were admitted last weekend suffering from acute diarrhoea. At least three children were reported to have died earlier this week following the outbreak. The food, water and firewood situation in the town is also reported to be affected by the influx.

The outbreak of fighting in Somalia's Upper Gedo region in mid-April has sent two waves of refugees into north-eastern Kenya. A first wave of some 5,000 refugees entered Mandera nearly a month ago. A second influx sought safety at the beginning of May, bringing to some 10,000, the total number of Somali refugees who have crossed into the Mandera area.

Kenya is already host to some 250,000 refugees, about 140,000 of them from Somalia.