With Somalis fleeing the conflict between Islamists and warlords pouring into neighbouring Kenya at the rate of 200 to 300 a day, most of them women and children, the United Nations refugee agency today appealed for additional supplies to tend to the influx, now topping 25,000 since the beginning of the year.
“We are still in urgent need of clothes for the new refugees,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva. “Children especially are wearing tattered clothes after walking long distances for weeks with only the clothes on their backs.”
“We are currently working to expand the three existing camps in Dadaab (north-eastern Kenya) to make room for another 25,000 people as more refugees keep crossing from Somalia,” she added.
More than 5,000 Somalis arrived this month alone, over 60 per cent of them under the age of 18 and many of the families headed by women. The refugees say males stay behind to take care of other family members unable to leave and to look after family businesses or property.
After screening them at the border, UNHCR transports them to Dadaab, a complex of three camps already hosting 134,000 refugees, mainly Somalis. The Agency has received additional stocks of domestic supplies sufficient for up to 25,000 new arrivals.
“With the new stocks, we will be able provide items such as soap, blankets, mats, jerry cans and kitchen utensils to all new arrived families,” Ms. Pagonis said. “Until now, because of insufficient stocks, our distribution of household supplies has been limited to the most vulnerable families.”
But clothing remains an urgent need, as do school supplies. The non-governmental organization CARE, which handles education in the camps, has been trying to encourage the new refugee families to send children to school.
“However, we are going to need additional resources to ensure all the children can attend – new classrooms, desks, text books, teaching materials and other supplies,” Ms. Pagonis said.
A team of medical experts from Kenya’s Health Ministry and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) visited border areas this week and pledged to provide additional health workers to ensure proper screening for communicable diseases as well as immunization or treatment against polio, measles and tuberculosis for all children under five. The team also pledged to provide more stocks of vaccines.
The refugees are fleeing Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, and the Kismayo area following repeated clashes between the Islamic Courts Union and warlord militia. Others fled the Baidoa area, headquarters of the Transitional Federal Government.