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UNHCR chief visits Dadaab, draws attention to "dramatic" Somali refugee crisis

News Stories, 5 August 2009

© UNHCR/Y.Hassan
High Commissioner Guterres talks to a disabled refugee leader in Hagadera camp, Dadaab.

DADAAB, Kenya, August 5 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, while visiting a sprawling, overcrowded camp complex in north-east Kenya, put a spotlight on the "dramatic" Somali refugee crisis and called on the international community for more help.

"Together with the Kenyan people and the Kenyan authorities, we are facing one of the most dramatic refuge crises of the recent past in Dadaab, in a semi-arid area far from everything. We have nearly 300,000 refugees and thousands more coming in each month," he said.

Guterres, who is on an official three-day visit to Kenya, also described Dadaab on Tuesday as "the most difficult camp situation in the world." Located some 90 kilometres from the border with Somalia, the three camps at Dadaab were built to house some 90,000 people. Today, they are home to more than three times that number, mostly Somalis.

The long-term refugee population urgently needs improved infrastructure in one of the world's oldest refugee camps, including water distribution networks, and expanded services such as health and education. It also needs more room for expansion.

As the violence continues in Somalia, some 6,500 new arrivals flood to the camps each month, putting a further strain on the overstretched resources. Only a third of the new arrivals have been provided with land to erect a shelter, the rest have been forced to stay with friends and family.

The High Commissioner announced that UNHCR would provide an additional US$20 million this year to meet the needs of refugees and the host community. He also called for a massive injection of funds from the donor community to help the refugees and the local people.

"We count on the cooperation of the Kenyan government and the solidarity of the international community to make this possible and to mitigate the high price paid by the host community whose resources are being rapidly depleted."

During his visit on Tuesday, the High Commissioner watched UNHCR and Kenyan government officials conduct a joint verification exercise for long-term refugees aimed at updating the number of people in the camp. He visited the hospital in Hagadera camp and spoke to teachers and parents at a secondary school run by the local community. He also met with representatives of the refugee and host communities.

During his day-long visit, Guterres highlighted UNHCR's priority areas. He called for urgent improvements in conditions in the camps by putting more resources into water, sanitation, health, nutrition and shelter.

He also said UNHCR would relocate some of the refugees to Kakuma, a camp near Kenya's north-west border with Sudan. At the same time, he stated that extra land was needed to develop a new camp south of Dadaab.

The High Commissioner stressed the need to do more to support the local community, which has been adversely affected by hosting large numbers of refugees for extended periods. UNHCR will spend US$6 million on community projects to improve the environment, such as reforestation, and on providing water, health and education services for local people. Other UN agencies will also be involved in working to improve conditions of the local community.

"I feel it is a moral obligation to both the refugees and the host community to implement these priorities," Guterres said.

The latest arrivals included 19-year-old Adnan Amir Haji, who fled from his home in Hawl Wadaag, north-west Mogadishu, after a shell hit his home while he was out, killing his entire family. "I came home and saw the bodies of my family in the rubble. I will never get that image out of my head. I took a bus and then walked for two days to get here but I don't feel safe anywhere, not even here," he said.

The High Commissioner spoke to several refugees including Zainab Mohamed Hassan, a mother of four, who fled from central Somalia in 1992. "Unless there is peace in Somalia, we will lose hope of ever returning back home," she told the UNHCR chief.

Guterres is also due to hold talks with Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and other top government officials.

By Yusuf Hassan in Dadaab, Kenya

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People with disabilities

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António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

The three camps at Dadaab, which were designed for 90,000 people, now have a population of about 250,000 Somali civilians, making it one of the world's largest and most congested refugee sites. UNHCR fears tens of thousands more will arrive throughout 2009 in this remote corner of north-east Kenya as the situation in their troubled country deteriorates further.

Resources, such as food and water, have been stretched dangerously thin in the overcrowded camps, with sometimes 400 families sharing one tap. There is no room to erect additional tents and the new arrivals are forced to share already crowded shelters with other refugees.

In early 2009, the Kenyan government agreed to allocate more land at Dadaab to accommodate some 50,000 refugees. View photos showing conditions in Dadaab in December 2008.

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

Dire Times in Dadaab

Angelina Jolie's visit to Dadaab in north-east Kenya puts a spotlight on the overcrowded camp complex, home to tens of thousands of refugees.

When UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited Dadaab in north-east Kenya on September 12, 2009, she saw first-hand some of the tough conditions that tens of thousands of refugees must live in. The overcrowded three-camp complex is home to more than 285,000 mainly Somali refugees, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world. The camps were established in the early 1990s and were intended for a maximum of 90,000 people. Up to 7,000 people are now arriving every month to escape continuing conflict in Somalia. Jolie talked to residents about their daily life and their exile. These images show her meetings with the refugees of Dadaab and show some of the conditions they live in. Aside from overcrowding, they face water shortages, crammed classrooms, health problems, the coming rainy season and a range of other difficulties. UNHCR hopes new land will be allocated soon for the new arrivals.

Dire Times in Dadaab

Galkayo: Vulnerable in a volatile land

Galkayo, located in Somalia's Puntland region, is home to more than 60,000 displaced people who fled war-torn south-central Somalia and harsh drought conditions in many parts of the country.

The displaced people are scattered around 21 makeshift settlements in Galkayo. Multiple families often share small, rudimentary shelters made of cardboard and plastic sheets. Despite overcrowding and extreme poverty, it is not uncommon for families to take in abandoned children and elderly people who are on their own.

Squalid conditions and lack of proper health care mean that simple ailments can easily develop into complications. There is little employment in Galkayo and most displaced people find informal day labour, such as collecting garbage or washing clothes for the locals.

UNHCR provides basic assistance to Galkayo's displaced people through vocational training and income generation programs meant to improve their livelihoods. The refugee agency also provides temporary shelter and emergency relief items for vulnerable families.

Galkayo: Vulnerable in a volatile land

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