Camp resources stretched by influx of Somali refugees

An influx of refugees, mainly from Somalia, into Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya, has not only overstretched the camp’s resources; incidences of sexual and gender-based violence doubled between 2007 and 2008, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.



Originally built to accommodate 90,000, the camp's population was 244,217 on 25 January. "Trying to squeeze 200,000 plus people into an area intended for 90,000 is inviting trouble," Craig Johnstone, the deputy UN high commissioner for refugees, said on 5 February.



The influx has also reduced water availability and put enormous pressure on sanitation systems; two cholera epidemics occurred in 2007.



"In Dadaab we face a very serious condition. It is critical to establish a new camp and improve the situation, even for the host community," said Johnstone.



In November 2008, UN officials warned of a possible humanitarian crisis in Dadaab due to overcrowding. At least 60,000 new arrivals, mainly from Somalia, were recorded that year, according to UNHCR. Many of them were from the main Mogadishu clan, the Hawiye.



This year, 6,000 arrivals have been recorded so far. With the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, UNHCR anticipates a sharp increase in new arrivals in early 2009.



UNCHR said it was talking with the Kenyan government to allocate it more land. "This is expected to ease life for absolutely everybody," Johnstone said, adding that some 2,000 hectares of land had been identified near Daadab by the government, local authorities and UNHCR for a new camp to accommodate about 50,000 refugees. However, negotiations with the local community were still going on.



The local community is against an expansion of the camp boundaries, saying it is already encroaching on their land. Environmental concerns had also been raised.



"The collection of firewood from nearby areas has reduced many wooded areas of land to shrubs," said UNHCR.



Sexual violence



The lack of shelter and the limited police presence had also made it difficult to prevent sexual violence in the camp. Cases increased in 2008 to 219 - up from 103 in 2007, with 79 cases of rape, defilement, assault, sodomy or attempted defilement reported.



"Unknown men raped women while they were grazing livestock far away from the housing blocks," said UNHCR. Female genital mutilation/cutting was also reported among new arrivals.



Kakuma



UNHCR is to move some refugees from Dadaab to Kakuma camp, 1,200km away in the northwest, to ease overcrowding, though difficulties are envisioned. "There is space in Kakuma but not much infrastructure," said Johnstone.



The relocation is also expected to be costly. The population in Kakuma has reduced from a high of 95,000, due to returns to southern Sudan.



While no timetable has been fixed for the creation of a new camp, time was of the essence. "We have seen manifestations of 'breaking points' already," Johnstone said, adding that demonstrations had occurred protesting against the setting up of structures outside the camp.



aw/cb