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Somali refugees in Kenya: approval for movement

Briefing notes

Somali refugees in Kenya: approval for movement

14 June 2002

After weeks of negotiation, UNHCR has finally received approval from the Kenya government to move more than 5,000 Somali refugees who have been stranded for nearly two months at a makeshift camp along the unsafe border between Kenya and Somalia, where dozens of people, mostly children, have died of disease and malnutrition over the past few weeks. On Thursday, in a letter to UNHCR, Kenya's vice president authorised the immediate relocation of refugees from the border zone to the established Dadaab refugee camp, 500 km away.

UNHCR is this morning mobilising trucks and buses to begin the transfer operation, now scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday next week. The first convoy is expected to take up to 180 refugees on a two-day journey by road to Dadaab. The convoys will be travelling with police escort, as they will cross bandit-prone areas of northern Kenya.

In the meantime, UNHCR and its partners will continue to assist vulnerable refugees, particularly, the more than 60 severely malnourished refugee children among the 200 admitted to the local hospital for therapeutic feeding, to ensure that they are stable enough to undertake the two-day journey to Dadaab. Refugees in good health condition will, therefore, be transferred to Dadaab first.

Since mid-April, more than 10,000 Somalis have fled clan fighting in the Somali town of Bula Hawa, over the border from the town of Mandera. Roughly half of them returned home during May, allegedly under pressure from Somali and Kenyan officials. Most of the remaining refugees have been stranded at a camp, barely 500 metres from the insecure border, for the last several weeks without adequate food or shelter. Aid workers have been unable to assist the refugees at the border camp due to fear of attacks by armed militia from across the border.

Kenya is hosting some 250,000 refugees, mainly from neighbouring countries. Some 130,000 of them are from Somalia, living primarily in Dadaab camp.