Refugees are pouring across the Kenyan border as fighting between the Somali government and rebel group al-Shabab rages across the war torn country.
The Somali government’s recent push to eliminate al-Qaida linked insurgents is spilling into Kenya, as fighting continues along the border.
On February 24, the Transitional Federal Government launched a countrywide offensive to oust Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab from its strongholds across southern and central Somalia. The group controls much of the region including large parts of the capital, Mogadishu. The offensive was launched with help from the joint United Nations - African Union force AMISOM, as well as support from the Ethiopian Military.
At the end of February, fighting spilled into the Kenyan town of Mandera, near the border with Ethiopia and Somalia. While the majority of the fighting has taken place on the Somali side, civilian deaths have been reported as stray bullets hit innocent bystanders.
Mandera is largely quiet now, but Kenya Red Cross Director Abbas Gullet said Friday the situation has not yet returned to normal.
“At least on the Kenyan side of the border there is relative calm and peace although people are tense because of the ongoing fighting on the other side that continues every evening and every night and early mornings," said Gullet.
Kenya has denied reports of Somali soldiers using Kenyan territory to launch attacks on insurgent forces and all reports indicate the fighting has moved back into Somalia. But as fighting continues, Kenya is bracing to receive the brunt of Somali civilians fleeing the violence.
Over the past week, Mandera has seen a massive influx of Somali refugees, largely from Bula Hawa, just across the Somali border. While not all the refugees have been accounted for, Gullet estimates as many as 20,000 have fled.
“Kenya Red Cross has been granted permission by the government to set up a refugee camp," he said. "Until last night we had registered about 11,170 individuals. There is more being registered today.”
The Red Cross is currently providing those in need with basic shelter, food and health services. The group plans to launch an appeal next week for assistance to provide more permanent accommodation for the displaced.
Kenya has a long history of receiving Somali refugees due to the Horn of African nation’s prolonged instability. It has been 20 years since Somalia had a functioning government. Dadaab, in northeastern Kenya, currently hosts three refugee camps housing an estimated 300,000 Somali refugees.