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Angelina Jolie visits 'one of the most dire' refugee camps at Kenyan-Somali border

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Angelina Jolie visits 'one of the most dire' refugee camps at Kenyan-Somali border

12 September 2009

Dadaab, Kenya - UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp situated on the Kenya-Somali border on Saturday. Describing the camp as 'one of the most dire' she had seen, Jolie concluded her visit by asking "if this is the better solution, then what must it be like in Somalia?"

During her day-long visit, Jolie visited one of the three camps that together host around 285,000 refugees. She met a number of families including a mother just arrived in the camp, after walking for days with her three young children to flee war-torn Somalia.

Jolie witnessed the daily reality of life in Dadaab at a water collection point where women and young children regularly queue for hours each day at water taps that are switched off for hours on end. After visiting a number of shelters she said "the toilets are already overflowing. There is not even enough space for trash dumps so people are living amongst the garbage."

Jolie arrived in the camp well informed on the critical situation arising from the lack of space and water. She heard about the outbreak of cholera earlier in the year from UNHCR staff and noted that "with up to 7,000 refugees arriving from Somalia each month and rain on the horizon, they say it will be hard to contain the next outbreak."

Jolie also met with families who have been living in the camp for many years and who are hosting newly arrived refugees resulting in up to 20 or more people sharing a space intended for just one family.

"What is amazing is that as more and more people come into the camp, the Somali families continue to be generous with what little they have. Even if that means having one eighth of the water they need and their children suffering from dehydration," said Jolie.

Liz Ahua, UNHCR Representative for Kenya, asked Jolie about her impressions to which Jolie replied "the Somali families I met today are full of warmth and affection. I wish more people could meet them, then they would have a stronger desire to help."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres visited Dadaab last month and received assurances from the Kenyan Government that the urgent issue of granting land for an additional camp would soon be addressed. During his 5 August visit, he described Dadaab as "the most difficult camp situation in the world." He pledged interim UNHCR measures to improve the living conditions of the refugees by upgrading the aging water and sanitation systems, increasing health services and providing adequate shelter and nutrition as well as giving more funding to support the local community. "If we don't receive more land soon, it will be impossible to avert a major humanitarian crisis," Liz Ahua, said during a discussion with Jolie.

Guterres committed an additional US$20 million for refugees and the Dadaab host community and called for massive international donor support. UNHCR recently began moving 12,000 refugees to the Kakuma camp in northern Kenya as an emergency measure for new arrivals.