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UN agency alarmed by series of blasts in camps for Somali refugees in Kenya

Somali refugees make their way past burning rubbish on a street at Ifo camp in Dadaab, Kenya.
Somali refugees make their way past burning rubbish on a street at Ifo camp in Dadaab, Kenya.

UN agency alarmed by series of blasts in camps for Somali refugees in Kenya

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm over a spate of deadly attacks using explosive devices in camps in Kenya that shelter more than 460,000 refugees, the majority of them from Somalia.

Three Kenyan police officers have been killed in blasts near the refugee settlements in the Dadaab area of Kenya’s North-Eastern province, including the one who died in the latest explosion on Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a press release.

Yesterday, another improvised explosive device went off near the market in the vicinity of Ifo refugee camp. There were no casualties, but a police vehicle was damaged. Four Kenyan police officers have been injured in the attacks since October.

“We are deeply concerned for the well-being and safety of Somali refugees in Dadaab, most of whom are women, children and elderly,” said António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees. “For the sake of refugees and those who are there to help them, it is of paramount importance to preserve the peaceful and civilian character of the camps.”

Conflict, violence against civilians, drought and famine, have forced an estimated 295,000 people to flee Somalia this year. More than half of than number have found shelter at the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, while others sought refuge in Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti.

In Dadaab, the development of new sites, registration, delivery of emergency assistance and services continued uninterrupted throughout the year.

However, since October, when two expatriate aid workers were abducted, growing insecurity has mean that aid agencies are only able to deliver life-saving assistance – mainly food, water and health services. UNHCR and its partners are exploring options to enable full operations to resume.

The situation in Dadaab has been further complicated in recent months by an outbreak of cholera, believed to have started among new arrivals who were infected in Somalia or en route to Dadaab. Although the outbreak is now on a downward trend, UNHCR has registered 897 cases, and three deaths, since August.

Somalia remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, according to UNHCR. More than 950,000 Somalis live as refugees in neighbouring countries, while another 1.46 million are internally displaced.

Meanwhile, a UN-supported reconciliation and constitutional conference for Somalia got under way today in the city of Garowe in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, marking another step towards the implementation of the agreed roadmap to end the current transitional governing arrangements.

Representatives from the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs), including the President, civil society, members of parliament and officials from the UN and regional organizations, among others, will discuss the constitution-drafting and adoption process over a three-day period.

A constitution for Somalia is central to a wider series of reforms and actions to be implemented under the roadmap. They fall under the four headings of Security; Constitution; Good Governance; and Outreach and Reconciliation, according to the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).

In a related development, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly today that Somalia’s peace process requires sustained and well coordinated international engagement. He said he looked forward to attending the high-level meeting on the country, which United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron intends to convene in London early next year.

“We must continue to develop a common approach to ending the transition in Somalia and looking beyond August 2012 [when the transition ends],” Mr. Ban told the Assembly, as he briefed the 193-member body on his visit to Somalia and Kenya earlier this month.

“Change will not happen overnight. But we have an obligation to build on the progress to date. Windows of opportunity are not open for long. All of us who care so deeply about the future of Somalia must make the most of this moment for the people of Somalia and the stability of the region,” the Secretary-General added.

Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, who accompanied the Secretary-General on the 9 December visit to Somalia, said there is a “window of opportunity” for the international community to step up assistance.

“This is our opening to be able to support Somali efforts to promote national reconciliation and an inclusive political process. Now is the time to act and to make this process happen for real,” said Mr. Al-Nasser.

He said the visit had sent an important message of support and goodwill to the people of Somalia from the Assembly and the entire UN system.

“I believe that we are all working towards the same goal, to make Somalia a safe and secure country. So let us all join our efforts to achieve peace for Somalia and the Horn of Africa,” he added.