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UN Criticizes Kenya on Treatment of Somali Refugees - 2002-05-30

The United Nations refugee agency says Kenyan authorities are refusing to allow the agency to relocate thousands of Somali refugees to a safer area, away from Kenya's border with Somalia.

Over the past month, about 10,000 Somalis have fled into Kenya to escape clan fighting. Since then, about 5,000 have gone back home, reportedly under pressure from Kenyan authorities and Somali clan leaders. The remaining refugees are staying at a location called Border Point One. The camp is barely 500 meters from the Somali border, where there has been heavy fighting between rival clans in Somalia.

UNHCR spokeswoman Delphine Marie says fighting has killed or injured several refugees. "On the 15 of May, we had four refugees that were killed by stray bullets and seven others injured. If fighting breaks out across the border, lives are bound to be lost as happened two weeks ago," she said.

Ms. Marie says the refugees include about 2,000 children and 400 pregnant women. She says many of them are suffering from diarrhea, malaria and other diseases. She says the hospital in nearby Mandera is unable to cope with all the sick. Furthermore, she says, it is very difficult to bring assistance to the refugees because of the dangerous situation at the border. The inability to deliver aid, she says, has already had tragic consequences.

"In the last five days, we have seen the unfortunate death of eight children and two adults in Mandera, only in the past few days. [Wednesday] three children died of malnutrition. Eight hundred children are at risk of severe malnutrition, if we do not deliver food in the next two days," she said.

Ms. Marie says the refugees would be much better off in any secure location away from the border area. She says aid workers then would be able to deliver the needed assistance, without risking their lives. Kenya already hosts some 250,000 refugees. About 140,000 of them are from Somalia. So far, Kenyan officials have not offered any explanation for why they have not given the UNHCR permission to move the refugees from Border Point One.