Two refugees were killed when Kenyan police tried to quell a riot that broke out in the world’s biggest refugee camp where the number of mostly Somali residents has swelled to more than 370,000, spawning overcrowding problems, the United Nations reported on Friday.
The unrest erupted yesterday when residents of Dagahaley refugee camp, one of the three that comprise the Dadaab complex of camps in Kenya’s North-eastern province, gathered to protest an attempt to demolish illegal structures around a food distribution point, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva.
Police initially used tear gas in an effort to disperse the crowd but reportedly resorted to live ammunition later, killing the two refugees and wounding about a dozen others.
“Sadly, this incident is symptomatic of the pressures at the camp amid overcrowding compounded by the very high number of arrivals we have been seeing recently from Somalia,” said Edwards.
More than 61,000 Somalis fleeing violence and severe drought in Somalia have sought safety and succour in Kenya since the beginning of the year.
“As of 6 June, we had opened three emergency centres in Dadaab, [and] since then a further 27,000 people have approached the reception centres at these sites,” said Edwards, adding that the total number of refugees in Dadaab surpassed 370,000 last week.
Somali refugees have also been moving into Ethiopia, with 55,000 have arrived since the start of the year. Twenty-six per cent of the newly arrived people are malnourished, with the malnutrition rate among children estimated at three in five. UNHCR has introduced a blanket feeding programme for young children and additional funding is required to keep the nutrition programmes going.
The two established refugee camps in Ethiopia’s south-east Bokolmanyo and Malkadida which were opened in April 2009 and February last year respectively, accommodate more than 70,000 refugees and have reached their full capacity. A new camp was opened last Friday at Kobe and 7,500 Somalis had been transported to the site by yesterday, according to Edwards. Ethiopia hosts a total of 130,000 Somali refugees.
Kenya is itself facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of the severe drought ravaging large swathes of the Horn of Africa. In drought-affected areas, monthly hospital admissions for severe malnutrition are 78 per cent higher than last year, Marixie Mercado, a spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told reporters in Geneva.
In Turkana district in the northwest, acute malnutrition rates are the highest ever recorded in the area, at 37.4 per cent.
Edwards cited aid agencies inside Somalia as saying they remain concerned about landmines and other security threats which are making access extremely dangerous.
“We are also receiving reports that people displaced by drought, lack of food and insecurity in the Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions [of Somalia] are arriving in Mogadishu in search of food and other humanitarian assistance,” he added.
Humanitarian conditions in Somalia, particularly the southern region, are at their worst in a decade. A total of 2.85 million people, or one in three Somalis, are said to be experiencing food crisis and in need of other forms of assistance, including water, sanitation and health care, according to Ms. Mercado.
UNHCR has also distributed shelter materials, blankets, mattresses, basic household goods and hygiene items, to people displaced by fighting in the Belet Hawo area in Gedo region.
In total, there are more than 750,000 Somali refugees in countries in the wider region, mostly in neighbouring Kenya (which hosts 405,000), Yemen (187,000) and Ethiopia (130,000). Another 1.46 million people are displaced within Somalia.
-UN News/InformAfrica.com reports