World Food Programme says it is prepared to work with Somalia’s fighters to tackle refugee crisis.
|Newly arrived Somali refugees waiting to be registered at Dagahaley camp, Dadaab in Kenya, [EPA]|
Kenya has agreed to open a new camp near its border with Somalia to cope with the influx of refugees fleeing the region’s worst drought in 60 years.
The lfo II camp in Dabaab will open its doors to 80,000 refugees within 10 days, the Kenyan government said.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga agreed to open the new camp after visiting Dadaab’s three existing camps where an estimated 380,000 refugees are now living at facilities intended to cope with a population of 90,000 people.
A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) official at the Dadaab Camp, Fafa Attidzah, said the announcement by Odinga was a big relief.
“We are just happy and again we are thankful and we are grateful to the Kenyan government and to the Kenyan people for having allowed these refugees who are suffering to have a little bit of dignity by having somewhere they where they could be accommodated,” Attidzah said.
The UNHCR had been urging Kenya to open the camp for the past two years but the government stopped work on it earlier this year, citing security concerns as one of the reasons.
Some government ministers had feared opening the camp would encourage more Somalis to cross the border.
During a news conference at the camp, Odinga said “although we consider our own security, we can’t turn away the refugees”.
“Time is of the essence in this matter. Let us not continue to delay, let us put bureaucracy aside and see that we have an obligation as members of the human race to assist and support our brothers and sisters who are threatened with death as a result of food and insecurity,” said Odinga.
Andrew Wander, a spokesman for the Save the Children charity, said “more children have died in Dadaab in the first four months of the year than all of last year”.
Many Somali refugees at the camp have travelled through harsh conditions with little food or water, and no humanitarian assistance, often abandoning members of their family who have died or are too weak to travel.
Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa, who reported from the Dabaab camp, said, “Over the past month, around 20,000 have made their way to Dadaab, many of them through similar means”.
Dadaab’s existing camps were set up in 1991 to host refugees fleeing war in Somalia. Between 40,000 and 60,000 are thought to be living outside the boundaries of the complex – existing as refugees beyond the current scope and control of the UN.
An average of 1,300 Somalis are arriving daily at the Dadaab complex.
Somalis have been fleeing from war for years now, but the drought, affecting 12 million people across the Horn of Africa, has brought the threat of a new humanitarian catastrophe to the region, with many people also seeking refuge in Ethiopia.