Tens of thousands of Somali refugees fleeing the worsening food crisis and ongoing conflict in the Horn of Africa are being barred from a new aid camp that stands empty and unused while refugee families live in shocking conditions a few kilometres away, Oxfam said today. The agency urged the Kenyan and international governments to heed the UN Refugee Agency’s call to open the camp and take quick action to ensure people have access to aid.
The refugee crisis in the region is growing as a steady stream of Somali refugees has turned into a mass exodus, with severe drought and ongoing conflict forcing 1,400 people a day to seek refuge at the Dadaab complex in northeast Kenya. 70,000 Somali refugees have also arrived at the Dolo Ado camps in Ethiopia.
“Women and children have made the most incredible journeys, walking for weeks through the desert and braving hunger and attacks by armed robbers and wild animals, to get to the camps in Kenya. They arrive extremely weak and malnourished, and the least that we can do is ensure that there is water, food and care for them when they get here,” said Joost van de Lest, head of Oxfam in Kenya.
The new Ifo II camp was built to try and ease the severe overcrowding in Dadaab, where camps designed for 90,000 people now shelter over 380,000. Yet despite the influx of new arrivals, Ifo II remains empty as the Government of Kenya has refused to allow people to move in. Water systems, latrines and healthcare facilities are ready to use but are standing idle. Another planned extension known as Ifo III has also stalled.
60,000 new arrivals are now instead sheltering in basic tents outside the camp boundaries, with limited access to clean water or toilets, risking an outbreak of disease. Agencies are scaling up efforts to assist the new arrivals, but the quickest and most efficient way would be to let refugees access service that are already in place.
“It is tragic that vulnerable families are trapped in limbo, forced to endure appalling conditions while there are fully functioning services right next door. Their basic needs are being ignored,” said Van de Lest.
Oxfam stressed that the Kenyan government deserves recognition for taking on much of the burden of Somalia’s refugee crisis over the years, allowing hundreds of thousands of people into the country when other nations have closed their eyes to the crisis. Oxfam called on the international community to provide more funds and support to help Kenya cope with the influx, and to step up efforts to promote a lasting solution to the humanitarian crisis inside Somalia, from which so many refugees are fleeing.
Unable to settle in the new camp, Oxfam said that refugees are forced to settle on community land, exacerbating existing tensions between refugees and the local host community, which is one of the poorest in Kenya and is itself suffering from severe shortages of food and water, after northern Kenya’s driest year for six decades.