Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN: Thousands of Somalis Fleeing to Kenya


The U.N. refugee agency reports the number of uprooted Somalis arriving this year in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya has surpassed 45,000. The UNHCR says thousands of Somali refugees, desperate to escape fighting in their country, make the difficult journey to Kenya every month. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency says about 5,000 refugees arrive in Kenya's remote Dadaab refugee camp every month. The camp is located some 80 kilometers from the border with Somalia.

The Kenya-Somalia border has officially remained closed since early 2007. But, UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says this has not stopped thousands of desperate people from coming.

"It is a fairly porous border," he said. "It is a very remote area. So, it is not all that difficult to get across the border. Once they do get across the border there are teams, mobile teams, which are able to reach them. There is a reception center where they are interviewed and then they are taken to the camp. So, it is not all that difficult for them to get across aside from the official checkpoints."

Dadaab is one of the world's oldest, biggest and most congested refugee camps. The UNHCR says the population is now more than 215,000. This is a 25 percent increase since the beginning of this year. It says most of the refugees arriving in Dadaab are from the Somali capital, Mogadishu where the fighting is most intense.

The UNHCR says Dadaab camp has twice as many people as it should have. It says the recent influx has worsened the overcrowding and it is planning to build another camp to house newly arriving Somali refugees.

Aid agencies describe this week's fighting in Mogadishu as the worst since the beginning of the latest insurgency in February 2007. Redmond says at least 15,000 residents have fled their homes.

He says almost half of the newly displaced civilians have moved to safer parts of Mogadishu. The others have fled toward the Somali town of Afgooye, which, he says is already jammed with more than 300,000 internally displaced people.

"The new wave of displacement in Mogadishu is worsening an already catastrophic situation in a war-torn country where more than one million people are displaced," he said. "Some 700,000 people fled Mogadishu last year alone. And, we estimate that since the beginning of this year, another 160,000 were forced to leave the Somali capital. Our partners in the city say people are confused, traumatized and fleeing in panic and despair. Many have no idea where to find shelter as they try to escape the massive and indiscriminate shelling and violence."

This upsurge of violence reportedly has killed some 200 people and wounded scores of civilians, including women and children. Redmond says the UNHCR fears the movement out of Mogadishu is likely to increase with the end of the month of Ramadan next week.