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Insecurity Grows in Somali Refugee Camps in Horn of Africa

Refugees stand outside their tent at the Ifo Extension refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border (File)
Refugees stand outside their tent at the Ifo Extension refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border (File)

The United Nations refugee agency warns of growing insecurity in camps sheltering hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa.  The UNHCR says the situation is particularly worrisome in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex, the largest refugee settlement in the world.    

Nearly one-half million refugees, most of them Somalis, are living in Dadaab. The U.N. refugee agency says it is extremely concerned about their safety. It says the camp’s inhabitants have been under threat from improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, vehicle hijackings and banditry over the past few months.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says most of the security incidents probably are a result of banditry, which is very high. But, he does not exclude that so-called other elements also are involved.

“Things got somewhat more serious in October when we had the kidnapping of three aid workers and certainly with the bombings that clearly targeted the police force in Dadaab.  Four police officers were killed, three wounded, said Mahecic. "And certainly, there are elements clearly there who whether they have infiltrated or they come and go, it is not really clear and it is really impossible to say.”  

The Kenyan government sent hundreds of troops into southern Somalia following the spate of kidnappings in Dadaab and other areas near the Somali border in October. The government blamed al-Shabab militants for the kidnappings and vowed to subdue the Islamist group.

The Kenyan military presence in southern Somalia has increased fighting in the region. At the same time, the situation in the Dadaab refugee camps was starting to become more dangerous.  

Mahecic says the Kenyan authorities are investigating the killings along with other risks and abuses against refugees. He says the threats in the camps are seriously curbing the ability of aid agencies to do their job.  

He says humanitarian workers are continuing to provide basic services such as health, food, water, sanitation, education and protection. But, many other programs are no longer available.

“In addition to the life-saving services, there is a whole range of services that are usually being offered to the refugees, which could include from the vocational training, special counseling, psycho-social workshops, some special programs for women, etc.," said Mahecic. "So, there is a very broad range of different activities. You have to remember this is a camp of a size of a town in the middle of sand.  But, these people have the needs like everybody else in the world and the aid agencies are trying to cater to all those needs.”  

In the meantime, the U.N. refugee agency says it is becoming fearful about the security situation in the Dollo Ado camps in Ethiopia. It says that on Wednesday, three armed men dressed as civilians fired on a vehicle belonging to a private international aid agency when it refused to stop. Fortunately no one was hurt.

While this was an isolated incident, the UNHCR says aid agencies have stopped all but essential services while an investigation is underway. It says security for humanitarian staff is being increased.

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