Accessibility links

Kenyan Refugee Camp Overpopulated as Somalia Fighting Continues

As warfare in Somalia rages on, more and more people are seeking safe haven in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in neighboring Kenya.

The three settlements have the distinction of being one of the world's largest refugee camps and now house more than twice the number of people than they were built to accommodate.

Land is scarce. Supplies are being stretched to the limit and stress levels of residents and aid workers alike are running high.

Wila Musa Hassan cooks lunch. She and her family are new arrivals at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. They were caught up in the fighting in Somalia.

"Too many people have been killed. So many attacks took place especially against women and children. There is hunger there and no shelter. We had to run away. We fled Mogadishu with a donkey cart all the way to Bulahubey where I found a vehicle that was traveling to Kenya," she said.

Her story is common in a place where everyday more than 200 desperate, frightened people show up at the gate. They cannot get in immediately.

Many must wait a month. And that can put pressure on long-term residents, some who have been in the Dadaab camps since they opened 18 years ago.

Mohamed Gudle Aden, 23, is one such resident who says he tries to help out.

"We do assist [with] what we have, but what we do not have, we cannot," he said. "We are just like them - we are getting what they are getting nowadays. If we can do something at least to them, we do assist."

Across the border, Somalia has been embroiled in civil war for nearly two decades.

At least half of Mogadishu's residents have fled the capital and other parts of Somalia in the past several months mainly because of clashes between Ethiopian troops and Islamist insurgents.

At the camp, refugees from the war line up to register and workers from the United Nations' refugee agency and other groups struggle against the month-long backlog.

During that time, the newly arrived have to eke out an existence on their own.

Once registered at Dadaab, refugees receive materials to build and maintain households. But these non-food supplies are quickly shrinking.

"We have placed orders because we basically have run out of what is available now for the new refugees," said Liz Ahuna, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya. "Of course, we have suspended providing any of these necessities to the refugees who were here before 2008, so as to be able to cater for the new refugees arriving."

And Ahuna says with overcrowding, services like water have become a huge problem.

"We are not able to give the refugees all the water that is required even to meet the minimum standards," she said.

And land is one of the biggest challenges.

The Dadaab camps were built to house a total of around 90,000 people. About 224,000 refugees now live here, with more arriving daily.

The U.N. refugee agency must negotiate with the Kenyan government and the local community to get more land.

"The issue of space now is a real challenge to the government," said Omar Dhadho, who is with the Kenyan government's Department of Refugee Affairs. "Because we are required to get goodwill from the host community to be able to secure land to accommodate the refugees. So the goodwill has been expressed in one place and we lack [good] will in other areas."

Dhadho says local politicians and residents resent the refugees for taking away land, water and other resources from the nearby community.

Meanwhile, aid officials continue to seek funds to help the refugees and appeal to Somali leaders to end the fighting so that people can go back to their homes and live in dignity.