Kenya – Drought Exacerbates Somali Refugee Crisis in Dadaab Camp

Somalis fleeing conflict at home and drought arrive at Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. © LWF/DWS Kenya/L. Matendo

DADAAB, Northeastern Kenya/GENEVA 7 July 2011 (LWI) – There is no more space inside the Dadaab refugee camp to accommodate the 1,300 Somalis arriving daily in neighboring Kenya fleeing insecurity at home and one of the most severe droughts in the Horn of Africa region, says a representative of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Mr Lennart Hernander, LWF Department for World Service (DWS) representative for the Kenya-Djibouti program, describes the current situation as “very difficult.” The dire situation for refugees arriving at the LWF-managed United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camp in northeastern Kenya, worsens every day, he stresses.

“Presently about 1,300 people arrive at Dadaab from Somalia daily. With no place available in the camps, they end up outside in what is known as illegal settlements,” Hernander says.

He continues, “Now we are at the state where we have more than 42,000 of the newly arrived refugees that are actually outside the camp boundaries because there is nowhere to fit them inside. And this number is growing. Apart from not being able to access services, the new refugees that are technically illegally settled outside the camp boundaries cannot be guaranteed protection and the areas are also prone to floods.”

The LWF representative says the new arrivals “are often tired and exhausted, having travelled very far, sometimes from as far as the Somali capital Mogadishu, in some cases on foot over 1,000 kilometers. On average 20-30 children die of malnutrition every month, with the malnutrition rates among new arrivals reaching 30-40 percent.”

The LWF, along with other international agencies, is appealing to the Government of Kenyan to open a new site at Dadaab, already home to the largest cluster of refugee camps in the world.

Hernander points out, “The refugee population in Dadaab has grown by 85 percent in just three years, putting immense pressure on humanitarian response, environment and straining host community and refugee relations.”

He says the drought in the region “is now rapidly worsening an already bad situation.” The UN has describes it as “the most severe food security emergency in the world today,” and the World Food Program estimates that at least 8.8 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have been affected. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) says the international community’s response to appeals for food aid has been “inadequate to prevent a further deterioration.”

The LWF is discussing with other partners in Dadaab how to support the new arrivals in different ways, especially with non-food items and material for temporary shelters, Hernander notes. “We are also trying to find ways to support the refugees along the way from Somalia to Dadaab, as there are many of them who do not make it all the way,” he adds.

DWS Kenya manages the Kakuma (in the northwest) and Dadaab refugee camps for the UNHCR. Dadaab, in existence for 20 years, has been home to 230,000 refugees, most of them fleeing war and insecurity in Somalia.

Hernander notes, “The host community has accepted the camps but now they worry the camps will just keep on growing, so there is tension between the host community and the refugees.”

The LWF representative underlines the need to amplify the concerted efforts of both the Kenyan government and the international community.

“The current humanitarian response is far below a scale that can prevent further deterioration of the situation. Urgent efforts are needed to meet the huge requirements for food assistance, health and water,” he adds.

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