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Kenya Opens Extension to Refugee Camp, But More Space Needed

Somali refugees wait in line to receive food rations at a World Food Program distribution point in Ifo Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, July 15, 2011

Kenya has announced it will reopen an unused refugee camp in Dadaab to accommodate the influx of refugees from Somalia. Aid groups have welcomed the move but warn that more assistance and yet another refugee camp will be needed to address the ongoing crisis.

Just days after international calls for the opening of an unused section of the Dadaab refugee camps in northeastern Kenya, Prime Minister Raila Odinga announced Thursday during a tour of Dadaab that humanitarian agencies would be allowed access to the Ifo II camp, which has been unused up until now.

“The construction work which was going on, which was stopped must continue and be completed as quickly as possible so the camp can be opened,” he said.

Humanitarian groups welcomed the move on Friday to reopen the unused camp. Oxfam Spokesperson Alun McDonald said humanitarian groups were ready to start operations in Ifo II immediately.

“It’s great news, as long as it happens. We’ve been asking the government to open the camps for quite a few months and we have all the water systems and latrines in place and ready to use. So the sooner we can get people into the camps, the better,” he said.

McDonald told VOA that while Mr. Odinga announced the opening of Ifo II, Oxfam had yet to receive official word on when the group could move in to the camp. McDonald said he expected operations to begin within the next ten days.

Construction on Ifo II began nearly two years ago, as an extension of the Ifo camp at Dadaab, but construction was halted just over one year ago by the Kenya government citing security concerns. There have been reports that the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab uses the Dadaab camps as recruiting grounds for their war against the United Nations-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.
But with recent gains made by TFG troops in their struggle against Shabab, the Prime Minister said the camp could be reactivated.

Odinga also told reporters the Kenyan-Somalia border crossing at Liboi - closed in 2007 - would be reopened to accommodate refugees. Liboi has in the past been a focal point of criticism by groups such as Amnesty International, who say Kenyan police around Liboi often harass, extort or even turn back Somali refugees in violation of international law.

Odinga said a station would be established at the border to screen refugees and weed out illegitimate claims of asylum.

A primary and secondary school, medical center and nearly 8,000 houses have already been constructed in the unused Ifo II camp. The opening of Ifo II will extend Dadaab’s capacity by 40,000 from 90,000 to around 130,000. But even with the new annex, there will simply not be enough room.

McDonald says there are over 380,000 refugees currently living in and around Dadaab, with thousands more arriving every week.

“It’s still not enough. It still leaves the camps very overcrowded. So there is still a big challenge with providing enough water, enough food, enough healthcare," he said. "One of the big problems is that people are coming from Somalia into an area that is one of the worst affected in Kenya in terms of the drought. So there are severe water shortages even in the communities outside of Dadaab.”

With the drought expected to continue for at least another two or three months, it is unclear how humanitarian agencies will cope with the steady stream of refugees entering Dadaab from Somalia. An additional extension to the Ifo camp, Ifo III was reportedly approved yesterday and would provide Dadaab with an additional capacity of 40,000.

McDonald said that despite increased international attention in recent weeks, agencies on the ground have not yet seen the support recently pledged by the international communities. He called on the donors to do their best to support the Kenyan government, which has thus far borne the brunt of the crisis.