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UN agency worried about insecurity at Somali refugee camps in Horn of Africa

UNHCR Dadaab camps, Kenya.
UNHCR Dadaab camps, Kenya.

UN agency worried about insecurity at Somali refugee camps in Horn of Africa

The United Nations refugee agency said today it is increasingly concerned about insecurity in and around camps hosting hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa.

“The situation is particularly worrying, complex and tenuous in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya where the threat of improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, vehicle hijackings and banditry remains high,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

He added that, along with killings of police officers and kidnappings of aid workers, the agency is also witnessing the targeting of refugees. Two refugee leaders who had volunteered to help maintain peace and safety in the camps were murdered at the turn of the year.

“These events and others, since late October, are harming life for the 460,000 people who make up the population of the largest refugee settlement in the world,” said Mr. Mahecic.

“The ability of aid agencies to deliver services is being seriously curbed,” he added. “Humanitarian workers are having to contend with restrictions on movement from Dadaab town to the camps, and police escorts for such movements have become essential.”

Despite these challenges, UNHCR says that basic services such as health, food, water, sanitation, education and protection are being maintained thanks to planning and the close cooperation of partners and the refugee communities in Dadaab.

Meanwhile in Ethiopia, a security incident occurred near the Dollo Ado camps on Wednesday, in which three armed men in civilian clothing attempted to stop a vehicle belonging to an international non-governmental organization (NGO). The vehicle, with four people on board, did not stop and the men opened fire. No one was hurt, according to Mr. Mahecic.

“Although this was an isolated incident, aid agencies have restricted all but essential activities and movements in all five Dollo Ado camps, which today host some 140,000 people,” he stated.

More than 955,000 Somalis live as refugees in countries neighbouring Somalia – primarily in Kenya (520,000), Yemen (203,000) and Ethiopia (186,000).

A third of them fled Somalia in the course of 2011 owing to conflict, drought and famine. Another 1.3 million people are internally displaced within the Horn of Africa nation.