The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is asking for $92 million to help hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who’ve fled to Kenya. Many of those refugees end up in the Dadaab refugee camp complex in remote northeastern Kenya, near the Somali border. The agency says the complex is 17 years old and is one of the oldest, largest and most congested refugee sites in the world.
Stef Deutekom is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Dadaab, he told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that the camps sit on a relatively small area of land. As a result, three or four families are now forced to share the same shelter.
“People who arrived a long time ago have to host new arrivals, which leads to bad sanitation…situations. And also from a protection point of view, it’s not what we would like or what we wish,” he says.
It’s estimated the camps currently provide shelter for 235,000 people and that does not include people that are currently waiting for registration done by UNHCR. And many more are on the way. “On a monthly basis, there is still an estimate of between seven and ten thousand new arrivals,” he says.
Deutekom says the UN World Food Program has done a good job of securing enough food for the refugees, but there are shortages of non-food items, especially shelters. “Those are currently not available, at least not in the numbers that we need them,” he says.
UNHCR says it would use some of the $92 million dollars to build two new camps, but it’s unclear where. “We are looking inside Kenya for locations… And that’s what we are discussing with the Kenyan government -- where those locations will be established. A normal camp would host between 25,000 and 30,000 people, in accordance with the UNHCR guidelines. I must say the exact surface of that area (size) I cannot tell you know. For a country the size of Kenya, it’s not that much of an area,” he says.
Deutekom says hosting more than 200,000 people does affect the local community in both good and bad ways. “Let me start with the positive ways. We help them building schools. We help them drilling bore holes. We provide labor,” he says.
The negative effects include environmental damage because the refugees bring their cattle, which graze the surrounding areas. The refugees also cut down trees to build shelters. The Kenyan government is also concerned about the large numbers of Somali refugees in Dadaab overwhelming the local community.