The United Nations refugee agency reports it has started relocating the first of some 12,900 Somali refugees from the overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp complex in northeastern Kenya to Kakuma camp in the northwest.  Dadaab camp, which now houses nearly 290,000 refugees, was originally built to hold 90,000.

The U.N. refugee agency says the first 311 Somali refugees have arrived in Kakuma after a three-day journey by road.  And, another 520 refugees are on their way to this semi-desert, remote camp in northwest Kenya.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, agrees the numbers are small.  But, says the UNHCR hopes to complete the relocation of the nearly 13,000 Somalis from Dadaab to Kakuma within the next couple of weeks.

"The relocation of refugees from Dadaab to Kakuma is part of a multiphase plan to alleviate the chronic overcrowding in the 18-year old complex of three camps in Dadaab, which currently host more than three times the population they were initially designed to accommodate," Mahecic said. "In addition, in order to improve the living conditions of the refugees in Dadaab, UNHCR is working on upgrading the aging water and sanitation systems, increasing of the health services and providing adequate shelter and nutrition as well as providing more funding to support the local communities neighboring the camps."    

Since January, more than 43,000 Somali refugees have sought refuge in the Dadaab camp.  That number is expected to keep growing even though Kenya has officially closed its border with Somalia.

Mahecic says the escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in Somalia is driving thousands of desperate people across the border.  But, their arrival is putting added pressure on Dadaab camp.

He says the quickest way to alleviate the overcrowding is to move the refugees to Kakuma.  He says thousands of Sudanese refugees, who used to live in the camp have gone home, freeing up space to accommodate the Somalis.

"There are plans being put in place to also improve the infrastructure and the conditions in the camp," Mahecic said. "But, ultimately, these camps were designed to hold only a certain number of people and the concept of actually putting up a new camp will ultimately be the solution where we can really alleviate the situation in the Dadaab complex."  

Mahecic says the refugees upon arriving in Kakuma were provided with blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets.  They then were transferred to their new accommodations.