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UNHCR says urgent aid needed in Kenya
August 05, 2009

The United Nations refugee chief has appealed for a massive injection of funds to help residents in Kenya’s sprawling and overcrowded Dadaab complex, which he described as “the most difficult camp situation in the world.”

Located 90 kilometers from the border with Somalia, the three camps at Dadaab were built to house 90,000 people, but today are home to more than three times that number, mostly Somalis.

“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,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said during a visit to the camp August 4. “We have nearly 300,000 refugees and thousands more coming in each month," he said.

Mr. Guterres, who is on a three-day visit to Kenya, announced that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees would provide an additional $20 million this year to meet the needs of refugees and the host community. 

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.

“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,” the High Commissioner stated.

During his visit, Mr. Guterres watched UNHCR and Kenyan Government officials conduct a joint verification exercise for long-term refugees in order to update the number of people in the camp. 

He also visited the hospital in Hagadera camp and spoke to teachers and parents at a secondary school run by the local community, in addition to meeting representatives of the refugee and host communities.

The High Commissioner said UNHCR would relocate some of the refugees to Kakuma, a camp near Kenya’s north-west border with Sudan, while emphasizing 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 $10 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.

For a slide show of pictures from the camp, please click here.

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Mr Christian Fuchs
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