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Warning over conditions at Dadaab camp

Refugees are controlled as they get into the UNHCR Dadaab camp for registration, Garissa District, Kenya August 2008. Allan Gichigi/IRIN
The process of decongesting chronically overcrowded camps hosting Somali refugees in Dadaab, northeastern Kenya, should be speeded up to check disease outbreaks and rising tensions with the local community, an official of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned.

"Disease outbreaks is one of the current issues we are tackling; in the Hagadera camp [where IRC runs a hospital and four health posts] there are 35 cases of measles already," Kellie Leeson, IRC's country director said at a press briefing in Nairobi.

Although Kenya officially closed its border with Somalia in 2007, more and more Somalis continue to pour into the country amid intensifying fighting between government troops and Islamist insurgents in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Leeson said humanitarian officials needed a reception centre to screen the new arrivals to check for potential disease outbreaks.

On 1 July, IRC launched an emergency measles vaccination campaign targeting thousands of children in Hagadera, one of three camps in Dadaab.

"We are concerned about the issue of space in Dadaab; negotiations for more land to expand the camps are ongoing and we urge the [Kenyan] government to speed up this process," Leeson said. "Plans are already under way to move 10,000 to 15,000 of the refugees to Kakuma [camp in the northwest]; but this figure is equivalent to three months of arrivals."

She said the growing tensions between the refugees and the local communities was another concern. The camps are not officially demarcated and some of the long-term refugees have purchased livestock, fuelling tension over pasture and water, Leeson added.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the refugee population in the three Dadaab camps - Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera - stood at 279,603 on 14 June.

The agency said the three camps were established to accommodate 90,000 refugees - 30,000 per camp - but by 30 April, Ifo was the most populous, hosting 95,180 refugees. Hagadera has a population of 93,642 while Dagahaley is home to 86,873 refugees.

Location map for the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya
Photo: Reliefweb
UNHCR said it had registered 32,057 new arrivals from Somalia so far in 2009 with no sign of a let-up.

Increased insecurity especially in the middle and lower Juba regions of Somalia, coupled with drought and food insecurity, were the main reasons for the surge from January to March. The lower number in April was attributed to the rainy season, which may have reduced drought-induced food insecurity and also made some border roads harder to pass.

In March 2009, Refugees International, an advocacy NGO, called on "UNHCR and donor governments to mount a full-scale diplomatic effort, including reaching out to Kenyan refugee and human rights NGOs, to gain Kenyan government permission to expand the Dadaab refugee camps".


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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