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AU Summit to Address Humanitarian Crisis, Says Official

The flags of African Union countries wave in the wind on June 29, 2011, at Malabo international airport on the eve of African Union's 17th summit in Sipopo City,Equatorial Guinea

A senior official of the African Union (AU) says the scheduled August 25 “pledge summit” will focus on addressing the humanitarian crisis, which he said is a result of the ongoing drought in East Africa.

Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, said the forum will also find ways to resolve the “immediate needs” of the hunger-stricken areas of the Horn of Africa.

“At that meeting, we will be addressing three main issues; first is the humanitarian crisis to see the shortfall in terms of the immediate needs of [those in Somalia hit by] famine… the second one is to address the short to medium term… and the third will be peace and security issues, where refugee matters will be featuring very high,” said Mwencha.

Kenya has asked the AU and international relief groups to consider opening a new refugee camp in a “third country” after an official said Nairobi is overwhelmed by the influx of Somali refugees. Camps along the border with Ethiopia are also filling up.

Kenya has built three camps for Somali refugees in Dadaab but has refused to expand them or build more. The government contends the camps contribute to environmental degradation.

Mwencha expressed little surprise that the influx of Somali refugees is an “overwhelming challenge” to Kenya.

“It is a serious problem. The refugees in Kenya have been in the camp - some of them almost 20 years since the crisis started in Somalia,” said Mwencha. “Because of the famine in Somalia many more [refugees] are returning, and indeed it is a major concern because of the numbers estimated to be about four hundred thousand plus. That is a huge number for any country to cope with.”

He also cited concerns about the challenges of providing security in the camps, ensuring sanitation and feeding the refugees.

“Indeed it is a challenge that the international community should share and also try to assist Kenya in solving the problem,” said Mwencha.

He said the African Union wants to keep the momentum gained by its peacekeepers (AMISOM) following the recent withdrawal of hard-line Somali militants from the capital, Mogadishu.

“The TFG [Transitional Federal Government] and the [AU peacekeepers] have made progress in the last few days, and we will like to see this sustained and expanded,” said Mwencha. “But in doing so, one has to address all the other challenges of how to strengthen the TFG and how to also address the needs of AMISOM to be able to maintain and sustain those areas that have been captured [from insurgents], and also to assist the TFG to bring about law and order in those areas.”