As the humanitarian crisis in Somalia worsens, the influx of
Somali refugees into Kenya has grown sharply. This, despite Kenya's closing its
borders early last year. Human Rights Watch is calling on the Kenyan government,
UN agencies and foreign donors to take action to help the refugees.
Gerry Simpson is with Human Rights Watch. From
Geneva, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about
the status of Somali refugees in Kenya.
"There are a number of problems for Somali
refugees in Kenya at the moment and the numbers are one part of that. In 2008
alone, about 65,000 Somalis will have entered the three refugee camps in the
northeast of Dadaab. That is more than triple the number that came in 2006 and
2007 in each of those years. And it is the largest influx of Somalis since the
war began in Somalia in 1991," he says.
Simpson says that the main problem the refuges
are facing is a lack of available land at the camps. "The camps were officially
declared full in August this year. Even before that they were overflowing. And
so since that time, new arrivals have received no shelter and no land on which
to build any shelter they might buy for themselves. And so now as a consequence
the camps are completely overflowing. The United Nations is trying to negotiate
for extra land for a fourth camp, but has come to this negotiation table far
too late in the day and the local host community now is blocking negotiations,
asking to be far more involved in aid agencies' work in the camp," he says.
It could be mid-2009 before more land may become
available for another Somali refugee camp in Kenya. "By that time there will be
about 275,000 refugees living on land originally designed for 90,000 people,"
The influx of Somalis into Kenya came despite
Kenya's ordering the border closed in January 2007 due to the growing conflict
in Somalia. Simpson says, "The closure has not come without a cost to refugees.
Because the border is closed, the Somali refugees have to pay people smugglers,
who take them across the border in order to avoid corrupt Kenyan police, who,
if they catch the refugees, detain them, demand bribes from them. And we have
testimony from refugees, who say that they have been detained in police
stations inside the camps and in towns around the camps, where they were beaten
and held in appalling conditions, and deported back to Somalia when they were
not able to pay bribes."
When the border between Kenya and Somalia was
closed, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, was no longer able to register Somali
refugees to ensure they received food aid and were safely transported to the
camps. The refugees also received health screenings.
Human Rights Watch is calling on Kenya to
immediately reopen the border, saying it violates international law to close it
under current humanitarian conditions. It also wants UN officials to take over
negotiations for more land and provide donors with a full assessment of the