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Kenya Petitions AU, Humanitarian Groups to Aid Somali Refugees

A newly arrived Somali refugee child awaits medical examinations at the Dadaab refugee camp, near the Kenya-Somalia border, July 23, 2011

Kenya’s deputy internal affairs minister Orwa Ojode says his government has petitioned the African Union (AU) and humanitarian organizations. He says Nairobi wants them to consider opening a new refugee camp in a “third country.”

Last week, the U.N. said famine had struck in two provinces of southern Somalia. Drought is widespread throughout the country, and hunger is growing. The world body says nearly four million people are “in crisis.” Over 135,000 have left the country for camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Ojode said Kenya is overwhelmed by the influx.

He said Kenya has proposed the construction of a new refugee camp inside Somalia, which he said could be, located about four kilometers from its border with Kenya.

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

“If you get environmental experts to come to Dadaab, they will definitely advise on the closure of that particular camp,” said Ojode. “We would request that you [the AU and the international community] to relocate some of the refugees to a third country.”

He also said the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM) is capable of protecting the refugee camps there.

“The reason why we are adamant that we do not go on constructing other camps is because … a majority of them [refugees] are looking for food and medicine,” said Ojode. “We think the international community will be able to supply those basic necessities to them within Somalia.”

Ojode said Kenya is concerned hard-line Somali Islamic insurgent groups including al-Shabab could infiltrate refugee camps in Kenya, and cause instability.

“The fear that the al-Shababs of Somalia, the al-Qaedas of Somalia, might also find ways of coming into Kenya looking for food and eventually having negative activities within Kenya,” said Ojode. “We are not ready to have that kind of insecurity in a population of 40 million…That is our biggest fear.”

He said Kenya will continue to tighten security around its border with Somalia.

“Al-Shabab is not a Kenyan affair; it is also a global affair. We need assistance…. Security is our first priority,” said Ojode.