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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why Kenya is Opposed to Opening of a New Camp for Somali Refugees

by Dave Opiyo and Paul Redfern

The Nation
August 14, 2011

The escalating row between the Kenyan government, international aid agencies and the United Nations over the opening of an extension camp for Somali refugees has highlighted a huge divide between the organisations over what to do about the crisis.

Nairobi is increasingly adamant that the flow of Somali refugees -- at around 1,500 per day -- is unsustainable and that the international community must act to tackle the problems inside Somalia and enable drought victims to be assisted in their own country.

This is thought to be the reason that a purpose built new GBP10 million extension camp for Somali refugees -- known as Ifo 2 -- has remained closed despite mixed messages from the Kenyan government over whether or not it can be used.

Aid agencies say that the situation is ridiculous as existing facilities cannot cope.

Under pressure

However, the Kenyan government is under pressure from a number of MPs, particularly those representing northern constituencies, not to allow the new permanent structure to be built.

They are also angry that the facilities and services available at Ifo 2, including schools and clinics as well as housing, are seen as much better than those available to local people who already believe they have been left behind in Kenya's development.

The issue remains extremely confused, however, with the UNHCR saying that as far as it is concerned Ifo 2 "is open," and aid agencies have been told "they can move in."

The problem for Nairobi is that the international community appears totally unwilling to act over the crisis in Somalia or to get involved in trying to broker an agreement that will allow refugees to be cared for in their own country.

There is little reporting on events inside the country -- which western journalists cannot access -- aside from pirate attacks, and a marked reluctance to be involved in peacekeeping in Somalia, a job it feels is best left to the African Union.

The result is that Kenya bears the burden and will continue to do so unless Nairobi refuses to accept any more refugees. But while pressure is put on Kenya to continue to accept the refugees, President Kibaki said last week that the present situation was "unacceptable" and insisted that Somali refugees "need to be settled inside their (own) country."

Meanwhile, the US government and the World Food Programme have warned that the worst of the food crisis in the region is yet to be seen and urged the international community to scale up its support.

The warning was fired by visiting US representative to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture Ms Ertherin Cousin, her predecessor Gaddi Vasquez and the WFP regional director Mr Stanlake Simkange at a news conference in Nairobi on Saturday.

"The international community must continue to support efforts to provide those affected by the drought with food, housing and their health needs. The worst may still be ahead," said Ms Cousin.

Food assistance

Their sentiments come against the backdrop of the latest report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that UN organizations and agencies had so far received Sh34.6 billion ($364 million) to assist its efforts to tackle the drought crisis in parts of Kenya.

This represents 49 per cent of the Sh70.3 billion ($740 million) it had requested as part of this year's revised Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan.

According to the report, the amount received, Sh11.2 billion ($118 million) has solely been allocated for food assistance.

"Other sectors that have received over 30 per cent funding include: coordination, multi-sector assistance to refugees and Water and Sanitation," reads the report, which covers the period from July 30 and August 5.

It adds; "An additional Sh2.2 billion ($23 million) is reported as uncommitted pledges."

The main target groups for the appeal are those affected by consecutive seasons of drought, high commodity prices, livestock losses, floods and disease outbreaks in arid and semi-arid areas.

Others are highly vulnerable groups in urban informal settlements; refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma; and other populations requiring humanitarian assistance including IDPs and returnees.

There are currently 3.2 million people in need of food assistance in Kenya, with the number expected to rise in the coming weeks. Refugee figures have topped to 520, 388 as at July 24.

On Saturday, Mr Simkange told journalists that even though those affected by the drought not only in Kenya but other parts of the Horn of Africa were receiving adequate assistance, there was still a lot more to be done.

"Until a month ago, we were reducing our monthly food rations because of lack of support. But the situation has changed with more support from the international community even though we are still operating on a month by month basis," said Mr Simkange.

"We however do require more support for us to enable us have enough food stock to last at least three months in advance," he said.


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