Kenya – Dadaab humanitarian work curtailed, but continues, says LWF

UN Agency Underlines Need for Continued Partnership

DADAAB, Kenya/GENEVA, 9 November 2011 (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) will continue with its humanitarian work at the world’s biggest refugee camp despite recent security threats in the Horn of Africa region, says the LWF Department for World Service (DWS) director Rev. Eberhard Hitzler.

The Dadaab camp in Kenya’s northeastern province is now 20 years old and the LWF is responsible for housing and security for some 460,000 refugees mainly from Somalia seeking refuge from conflict and famine. Recent security threats on Kenya are hampering humanitarian response.

In mid-October, Kenyan forces launched a military operation against the Al-Shabaab militants inside Somalia in an effort to secure its borders. There is a high security alert in the country, as the Muslim extremist group threatens counter attacks on Kenya for implicating the group in recent abductions of citizens, tourists and foreign aid workers. On 5 November, a grenade attack on a church compound in Garissa, some 100 kilometers south of the Dadaab camp, left two people dead.

Hitzler said on 8 November: “In DWS we have not yet the impression that the current situation in Dadaab constitutes a serious crisis–despite the security risks increasing for the organization; so we should set up a team to respond to it.” He also said that in many areas where the LWF conducts its humanitarian work security risks exist.

Raouf Mazou, deputy director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) desk for East and Horn of Africa, Chad and Sudan, told the LWF that if the aid organizations leave Dadaab “there will be a catastrophe.” He said, “Thinking ahead we think that the situation is going to be unstable for some time, especially due to the deployment of Kenyan troops in Somalia.”

One of the measures being put into place, said Mazou, is the deployment of 100 Kenyan police to the Kambioos camp at Dadaab, one of the newest, where the LWF is in charge of accommodation and security.

He said UNHCR is not planning to significantly reduce staff at Dadaab and that the refugee agency wants to continue working with partners such as the LWF, sharing important information. The situation might remain the same until early in 2012, Mazou added.

Lennart Hernander, LWF Kenya-Djibouti country representative, has confirmed that last weekend three new incidents happened, while explaining that work had been curtailed for the present.

Travel by Road

Hernander said, “On Friday [4 November], a tourist vehicle was attacked in Shaba National Park during a game drive. At least one tourist was injured and the driver was killed. The authorities have said that they do not believe this incident is related to the Al-Shabaab threat on Kenyan tourism, and no further information has been given about the likely motive.”

The following day, a convoy between Hagadera refugee camp and Dadaab town was targeted by a remotely controlled improvised explosive device. The explosion was targeting the escort vehicle, which was damaged, but police officers in the vehicle were not hurt.

“An LWF vehicle was in the convoy but not damaged and all staff members are safe,” said Hernander.

Following the recent attack on the church compound, the road between Garissa and Dadaab is not in use at the moment and most agencies have decided to ban travel by road to and from Dadaab until further notice.

“That means all transport and travel is now done by air from Nairobi directly to Dadaab,” said Hernader.

Another immediate consequence is that no external visitors, unless critically needed for the implementation of relief activities, will be allowed to the camps.

Hitzler explained that the LWF currently has security concerns similar to Dadaab in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where electioneering is taking place, and in Sudan “with various incidents around us.”

“Fortunately, nothing serious has happened, so far,” said Hitzler. “Security concerns of a different character, but still worrying, occur in Colombia and Central America.”

Michael Hyden, LWF program officer for Kenya/Sudan and emergency officer for the African region, explained that the LWF has about 140 staff in Dadaab–55 who are currently on duty and about 85 who are on leave or not able to work there at the moment.

“DWS will remain, but the number of staff will be lower,” said Hyden.

The LWF has designated six staff positions as crucial for all the camps it manages at Dadaab–camp manager; field, security and information officers; a senior social worker and planner.

“We have been assessing whether it is safer to keep staff in the camps overnight or to move them between Dadaab and the camps,” said Hyden.

Constant preparedness will be maintained for both options, “and also for keeping food etc. in the camps if staff based there cannot return to Dadaab. We are also working on fencing, increasing the number of guards around our compounds. We will also get metal detectors to screen all persons moving in and out of the compounds.”

Fencing

Due to fears that a grenade could be thrown over the fence into the compound, fencing is to be improved and the finalization of staff housing is a priority.

These measures are likely to remain in place till January, “unless the situation changes and we can scale up again,” Hyden said.

Concerning education, he explained that teachers had been scheduled to go on leave soon. “But now students are sitting for the national primary and secondary school exams so we plan to finalize that and then send the teachers home.” Public schools begin their first term in January.

He noted that surveying might not be done anymore or anytime soon in Dadaab and that social work activity has been curtailed. When the situation improves, staff operations can be increased again, he said.

Trust, Cooperation

A UNHCR representative in Dadaab, Bettina Schulte, speaking after a meeting of Camp Peace and Security Teams and Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs), reiterated what Mazou said. One PTA member had told the group, “We are sorry about the developments, but 90 percent of us are good, you should not be afraid of coming to us. We want you to trust us; don’t leave; we want to cooperate with you and the government.”

Another PTA member remarked, “You say you do life-saving work. But if the health posts are not open, where shall we go when we are sick? We need the agencies to return,” while a refugee leader said, “We no longer can sleep. If we see staff leaving, we wonder how safe it is for us to stay. The difference is that we have no home to go to.”

This was reiterated by Abdi, a youth leader from the Dadaab refugee camps: “As youth, we feel insecure in Dadaab in the current situation. There is nowhere to go, nowhere safe to stay. But we stand still to fight and change the situation in our community for a better living environment for all.” (1,166 words)

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