Malnourished children arriving from Somalia have been forced to wait unsheltered in the desert for an average of 12 days to be given food, medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) said in the report No Way In: The Biggest Refugee Camp in the World is Full.
The Kenyan government closed its border to refugees fleeing war in neighbouring Somalia in 2007, citing security concerns, and the United Nations (U.N.) announced in 2008 it had no more room for new arrivals.
But conflict and the worst drought in years have forced 44,000 Somalis to seek admittance into Dadaab camp since the start of this year.
"The camps are completely full. People are arriving and they do not find any space anymore, meaning they don't have access to water and other facilities," Joke van Peteghem, MSF's head of mission in Kenya, told AlertNet.
"You get more and more people sitting outside of the camp without proper protection and proper support." Humanitarian agencies are unable to get food aid into Somalia, which has been at war since 1991, because Al Shabaab rebels fighting the government are hostile towards them.
On arrival at the camp, 60 per cent of families report illness, having walked through the desert for many days with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
"People, and especially children under five, are coming in worse physical condition. We are observing more and more children being malnourished," said Mr van Peteghem.
"If you take a week before they get proper food and they look for healthcare, for sure the status of these children will deteriorate." In MSF's hospital in the camp, tents have been set up on the grounds and extra beds crammed into the maternity ward to accommodate some of the 864 severely malnourished children receiving treatment. An additional 2,387 children are receiving supplementary feeding for moderate malnutrition.
"Health indicators are now at an emergency level," said Gedi Mohammed, director of the hospital.
"We've got nothing to build a shelter with," Fatima, a 34-year-old refugee from Mogadishu, said in the report.
"It's very unsafe here – at night we're scared that wild animals will eat the children, and we've had threats of violence from local people who say the land is theirs." "Children are even being killed by hyenas because they have no protection."
The camp is a sprawling city in the desert, home to 350,000 refugees. The UN's refugee agency predicts that it will host 450,000 people – twice the population of Geneva – by the end of 2011. It was built 20 years ago to house a population one fifth that size.
An extension to the camps, which has space for 40,000 refugees, lies half-built and empty following a breakdown in negotiations between the Kenyan government and the UN last year.
The Kenyan government is reluctant to allow any expansion of the camp because of the environmental pressure on its own population, also hard hit by drought. It has suggested that new camps be built inside Somalia instead.
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