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Kenya: Somali refugees to be moved

Briefing notes

Kenya: Somali refugees to be moved

14 May 2002

Additional UNHCR staff were this morning flown from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to the border town of Mandera to begin the temporary transfer of more than 10,000 Somali refugees encamped there to a site some 10 km to the south. Mandera, a very remote town, is on the Kenya/Somalia/Ethiopia border. The transfer is aimed at locating the refugees further from the border for security reasons and grouping all of them in the same vicinity to enable easier distribution of aid. Three additional UNHCR staff flew to the region today and another four are expected to join the team in Mandera tomorrow. Relief supplies are also being readied in Nairobi for a scheduled airlift to the remote town early tomorrow. UNHCR expects to send in medicines to support the local hospital, high-energy biscuits, water tanks, tents and vehicles.

Refugees began arriving in Mandera nearly three weeks ago to escape clan fighting in their villages in and around the town of Bula Hawa, just over the border in Somalia. The town of some 20,000 was by late last week reported to be emptied by continued fighting between rival sub-clans. People from other nearby Somali towns, including Luuq and Gedweyne, had by last week also started arriving in Mandera. Those who have sought refuge in the town are mainly women, children and the elderly. They were generally in good health, but cases of diarrhoea and malaria are now being reported. Over the weekend, more than 50 children suffering from diarrhoea were admitted in Mandera hospital. Three of them later died. By late yesterday, some 29 of them were still in the hospital.

UNHCR is continuing negotiations with the government of Kenya to allow the refugees to remain temporarily around Mandera in the hope that the situation in their home areas will improve soon enough to enable them to return home. The government of Kenya is, however, hesitant to allow the establishment of a refugee camp in or around Mandera and has recommended the transfer of refugees to either of the two existing refugee camps in Kenya. The refugees themselves do not wish to move and prefer to wait close by in the expectation that the fighting in their home areas will soon subside.

At the height of the influx of Somali refugees in Kenya in 1992, UNHCR established a string of camps along the border, including in Mandera. These camps were later closed and refugees either repatriated or transferred to Dadaab refugee camp, some 400 km further south.

Kenya has a population of some 250,000 refugees, 140,000 of whom are Somalis.