Numbers of Somali refugees in Kenya grow hugely

The Dadaab refugee camp in arid northern Kenya received 62,000 new arrivals from Somalia in 2008.

Numbers of Somali refugees in Kenya grow hugely

A growing tide of Somalis fleeing has led to overcrowding in refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya and the United Nations does not expect the influx to ease soon, a U.N. official said.

The Dadaab refugee camp in arid northern Kenya received 62,000 new arrivals from Somalia in 2008 compared with only 18,000 in the previous year, U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.

Aid workers say Somalia's humanitarian crisis -- in which a third of the 10 million population needs food aid -- is the worst in the world.

"In January 2009, more than 7,000 new arrivals have already been registered," UNHCR deputy director Craig Johnstone told reporters during a visit to the camp on Wednesday.

Many hope that the election of a new Somali president, moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, may restore a lasting peace and stability in the Horn of Africa country and end the outflow of refugees.

Dadaab's three camps of Dagahaley, Ifo, and Hagadera -- mainly flimsy huts, and tents on sandy scrubland -- now house 247,182 people making it "one of the biggest refugee camps in the world," Johnstone said.

He said he was in Kenya to request the government for more land to settle up to 100,000 refugees and also discuss the issue of the common border which has been closed since early 2007.

MAKESHIFT TENTS

Due to its relative stability, Kenya has long been a haven for refugees from Somalia and Sudan.

The United Nations has been in negotiations with Kenyan authorities over reopening crossing points but the government maintains that would leave the country open to an influx of refugees and small weapons, which would worsen insecurity.

UNHCR says the overcrowding has stretched the camps' resources and infrastructure beyond their capacities and led to conflict with Kenyans living in the area.

New arrivals have to move in with relatives and friends or set up their makeshift tents on any patch of ground they can find, which causes conflict with local land owners.

Reuters
Last Mod: 05 Şubat 2009, 12:39
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