Somali refugees flooding Kenyan camp

Overcrowding at Dadaab complex, temporary home to 370,000, led to riots that left two refugees dead and a dozen wounded.

    Abdifatah Hassan, who is eleven months old and suffers from severe malnutrition, is a resident of Dadaab [AFP]

    Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled drought and civil war in their homeland in the past month, leading to overcrowding and occasional violent incidents in the world's largest refugee complex in neighbouring Kenya.

    Since June 6, around 27,000 people have arrived at a collection of camps in the town of Dadaab, 100km from the border with Somalia, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    The new residents have raised the camp's population to more than 370,000, and some have erected ramshackle "illegal structures" for housing, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

    A demonstration against the demolition of some of those structures turned violent on Thursday, leaving two refugees dead and around a dozen injured, he said.

    Kenyan police sought to disperse a crowd that had gathered to protest the demolition of some homes built up around a food distribution point, prompting a riot, Edwards said, and police responded with tear gas and live ammunition.

    Some refugees want out

    Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reports on the worst drought in the Horn of Africa in six decades

    The strain on Dadaab, which is comparable in size to European cities such as Nice and Florence, has led some refugees living there to petition to leave.

    The UNHCR, lacking space, has not provided newcomers with plots to live on for three years, though Kenyan authorities have recently established a new site to respond to the overcrowding.

    Sahara Abdi, a 35-year-old mother of six, told the Reuters news agency that she wants to transfer to the Kakuma camp, three days away.

    "We are having problems accessing food, medicine and shelter because many refugees are comign to Dadaab every day," she said.

    In 2011, Dadaab has seen around 10,000 refugees from Somalia arrive every week, according to the United Nations. Last year, that number was anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000. At least 1,000 people arrive every day.

    Somalia has been torn by war for two decades, though the conflict has escalated in the past six years, as the newly created Transitional Federal Government and Islamic Courts Union (ICU) competed for rule of the country.

    Though the ICU was defeated, the weak federal government relies on outside financial and military support to maintain its tenuous hold on power, and militias - including al-Shabab, an Islamist group - hold many times more territory than the government.

    American fears of an al-Qaeda and al-Shabab resurgence in Somalia has led to increased US military intervention in the country, including a drone strike that wounded two al-Shabab leaders last month.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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