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UN agency appeals for urgent help for Somali refugees

New Somali refugee arrivals wait for registration at a camp in Dadaab, Kenya
New Somali refugee arrivals wait for registration at a camp in Dadaab, Kenya

UN agency appeals for urgent help for Somali refugees

The United Nations refugee agency said today that the flood of Somali refugees into Ethiopia could overwhelm the ability of humanitarian agencies to help them, and called for urgent international assistance.

“Humanitarian efforts to help newly arriving Somali refugees in south-east Ethiopia are at risk of being overwhelmed without a more rapid and robust international response to the drought and displacement crisis in the Horn of Africa,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva.

The agency today issued an urgent appeal for $136.3 million to address the needs of up to 90,000 new arrivals in Ethiopia as well as ongoing arrivals in Djibouti and Kenya.

“Urgent help is needed,” she said.

“The number of arrivals in the Dollo Ado area [of south-east Ethiopia] is outpacing registration capacity,” she noted. “Systems for meeting the food and health needs are close to buckling. Electricity for pumping water to camps is in short supply because overcast skies mean solar panels can’t produce enough energy.”

A new camp in the area was opened several weeks ago but it is already nearing its full capacity of 20,000 people.

“All these problems can be addressed if we receive adequate resources,” said Ms. Fleming.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, who visited the Dollo Ado area of south-east Ethiopia yesterday, told reporters there that humanitarian efforts were needed inside Somalia so that people did not have to leave the country to receive help, but conflicts there prevented this from happening.

Since the start of the year, 54,000 Somalis have crossed into this area of Ethiopia, Ms. Fleming said. Rates of arrival have accelerated in recent weeks to around 1,700 people per day. Malnutrition rates are alarmingly high among the most recent arrivals. At least 50 per cent of children are either moderately or severely malnourished. Similar rates are being recorded in Kenya.

The drought crisis in the Horn of Africa is affecting Ethiopia, Kenya, and central and southern Somalia. However, it is in Somalia that its impact has been most pronounced. There, the fall in crop production has led to higher food prices. The situation for the civilian population is further compounded by fighting between Somali Government forces and Al-Shabaab insurgents near the Kenya and Ethiopia borders.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Kenya, some 1,400 new Somali refugees continue to arrive in Dadaab refugee complex every day, Ms. Fleming said, adding that 80 per cent of them are women and children.

“Our top priorities are to address the malnutrition and overcrowding in the camps. There is an urgent need for medical staff and nutritional items such as high energy and high protein therapeutic meals,” she said.

“The main challenge is to receive and rapidly stabilize Somali refugees arriving in extremely poor health conditions.”

Malnutrition rates among Somali children under the age of five arriving in Dadaab are around 30 per cent, she said.

“We estimate that a quarter of Somalia’s 7.5 million population is now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees,” said Ms. Fleming. “The drought is compounded by prevailing violence in southern and central parts of the country.”