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Red Cross Seeks Aid for Djibouti Refugees

The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for aid agencies and others to help 9,000 internally displaced people stranded in Djibouti, following a recent immigration crackdown in that country.

International Committee of the Red Cross Spokesman Mark Snelling says people staying at the Aour Aousar camp are in desperate need of water and sanitation facilities to fight a growing cholera epidemic.

The ICRC, along with the Djibouti Red Crescent Society, sent nearly 29 tons of water, sanitation equipment, health kits and other supplies to camp residents on Tuesday, following a request from the government of Djibouti.

But, said Mr. Snelling, this assistance is a one-time intervention meant only to stabilize the situation until a more permanent solution can be found. "It is an emergency," he stressed. "There has not been an emergency response to help these people. We felt that we had to intervene because currently there was not anybody else doing anything for these people."

He called on humanitarian and relief agencies to step in with assistance.

The camp is designed to hold 3,000 people, yet 9,000 from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, Sudan, Rwanda and Iraq live there. The ICRC says materials to build shelters are also urgently required.

The aid agencies' intervention follows the expulsion of some 100,000 illegal immigrants from Djibouti, the deadline of which was September 15. Media reports say the government carried out the exercise to curb crime in the tiny Horn of Africa country and because jobs and resources are limited.

Critics have charged that the government violated international refugee conventions and said Djibouti was under pressure from the United States to expel the immigrants as part of the fight against terrorism, a charge the U.S. embassy denies.

Mr. Snelling noted that many immigrants had left Djibouti by the time the deadline passed, but a sizable number say they cannot go home. "With this population that we are dealing with here, it does not seem to be that easy. Something will have to be discussed," he said.

Attempts by VOA to contact the U.N. High Commissioner in Djibouti were unsuccessful.