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Kenya  Agrees to Host 5,000 Somalian Refugees - 2002-06-14

After weeks of negotiation, the United Nations House Committee on Refugees won Kenya's approval to relocate 5,000 Somalian refugees. The move will put the refugees farther away from the border area where clan fighting has made life dangerous.

The UN refugee agency called the decision by Kenyan authorities a "welcome breakthrough," allowing it to move the Somali refugees to an existing camp further inland.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says the Somalis have been stranded for nearly two months at a makeshift camp in Mandera along the unsafe border between Kenya and Somalia. "Dozens of people, mostly children, died during several weeks of this very, very unfortunate situation with 5,000 people sitting in the middle of nowhere," he said from Geneva. "Now...we are mobilizing trucks to move the people. We will probably start moving them on Tuesday. It's quite complicated. It's a long way, about 500 kilometers, on terrible roads in northern Kenya which is bandit infested. We will have to arrange police escorts."

Mr. Janowski says UNHCR and partner agencies will continue to aid vulnerable refugees, particularly more than 60 severely malnourished children among the 200 admitted to a local hospital for therapeutic feeding.

He says Kenyan officials may have been reluctant to allow more Somalis further inside the country because of the large number of refugees it already hosts. "While we understand their concerns about increasing the number of refugees hosted by Kenya," he said, "at the same time this is not a huge group. It is a group that has been in a particularly difficult situation.

Kenya hosts about 130,000 Somalis among the 250,000 refugees that have fled to the East African nation from neighboring countries.

Since mid-April, more than 10,000 Somalis have fled clan fighting in the Somali town of Bula Hawa across the border from Mandera. UNHCR says nearly half of these people returned home last month, reportedly under pressure from both Somali and Kenyan officials.