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Kenya: concern for Somali refugee security

Briefing notes

Kenya: concern for Somali refugee security

24 May 2002

UNHCR hopes to begin the transfer today of some 3,500 Somali refugees from the north-eastern Kenya border town of Mandera to Dadaab - a three-day, 500-km journey. The planned transfer of the refugees comes amid rising tensions among the refugees in Mandera and continuing insecurity in the area. The refugees began fleeing to the remote Kenyan town in mid-April to escape weeks of clan fighting which erupted in the adjacent Somali town of Bula Hawa. Bula Hawa is just inside Somalia, at the border junction with both Kenya and Ethiopia.

Pending final authorisation from authorities in Nairobi, the first convoy is scheduled to depart Mandera at midday with about 150 refugees. On the three-day journey to Dadaab, the refugees will pass through remote, bandit-prone terrain before reaching the refugee camp, some 500 km to the south. Dadaab already has some 130,000 Somali refugees, mainly from the middle and lower Juba areas of southern Somalia. Poor road conditions coupled with heavy rains are expected to slow the movement. All convoys will be escorted by armed police.

Meanwhile, our staff in Mandera say tensions are rising at the makeshift encampment at Border Point 1, where an estimated 3,500 refugees have gathered. UNHCR staff said divisions were emerging among the refugees over whether to relocate to Dadaab. Local authorities, however, maintain that refugees must either return to Somalia or transfer to the distant camp. UNHCR has requested the deployment of more police officers to the site to ensure the safety of refugees who opt to move to Dadaab.

We remain concerned about the security of refugees at Border Point 1, because of its close proximity to the unsafe Kenya-Somalia border. During a visit to the site on Wednesday, UNHCR staff saw armed militia patrolling the border and a nearby Somali village. Ten days ago, four refugees at the Border Point 1 site were killed by stray gunfire as fighting intensified in and around their villages across the border. Seven others were injured by shrapnel. The transfer to Dadaab is expected to take two to three weeks. In the meantime, UNHCR would prefer to shift those waiting in Mandera to a safer interim site further from the insecure border. We will continue discussions on this possibility with the Kenyan government.