Cablegate: Somalia - Refugees Swell Dadaab Camps

DE RUEHNR #2441/01 3020857
R 280857Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: The arrival of 45,000 new Somali
refugees since January 2008 to the three Dadaab refugee
camps in Eastern Kenya has exacerbated tensions between
the local community and the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over jobs, service
contracts and the environmental degradation caused by the
refugees. UNHCR believes local politicians are stoking the
tensions and that unless UNHCR can relieve severe
overcrowding in the Dadaab camps further deterioration
between UNHCR and the local community could result. UNHCR
is concerned about a growing intolerance to refugees by
host community members and the security challenges posed
by the presence of asylum seekers with ties to various
Somali political groups in the camps. End Summary.

New Arrivals Exceed Available Services

2. (SBU) Originally built in the early 1990s to house
30,000 refugees each, the three Dadaab refugee camps (Ifo,
Dagahaley and Hagadera) have, by September 2008, swelled
to more than 215,000 refugees. By September 15, UNHCR
reported registering 45,911 new refugees into the camps so
far this year (a 25 percent overall increase in the camps
since January), with the overwhelming majority of new
arrivals being Somalis from South/Central Somalia. UNHCR
estimates the camp's population could grow to 240,000 by
the end of the year if the current rate of increase is
maintained. With a maximum capacity to register 450-500
new arrivals per day, UNHCR estimates that more than 6,000
asylum seekers remain unregistered and waiting for
authorization to enter the camps. New arrivals currently
receive a future registration appointment date with UNHCR
(currently about a one month wait), a food packet, and are
put on a list for future food distributions.

3. (SBU) Because of the lack of space for new arrivals,
UNHCR is unable to allocate plots for them to construct
shelters and is instead directing new arrivals to locate
and move in with family or clan members who are already in
the camps. Non-food items (NFIs) are also in extremely
short supply with only the most vulnerable new arrivals
(female-headed households, families with severe medical
needs, families without relatives or clan members in the
camps, etc.) receiving plastic sheeting, mats and cooking
utensils. UNHCR reports WFP currently has sufficient food
stocks to add new arrivals to bi-weekly food distribution
lists. The severe over-crowding in the camps increases
the risk of transmitting contagious diseases (polio, MDR
TB and measles have all been reported among the new
arrivals). UNHCR is concerned that the annual cholera
out-break associated with the beginning of the short rainy
season in October could be especially severe this year.

Tensions Over A Fourth Camp

4. (SBU) In September, UNHCR reported it had reached an
agreement with the Fafi district political and community
leaders on 2,500 hectares for a fourth camp (Note: UNHCR
had requested 10,000 hectares with the intent of
constructing three additional camps). In return for the
land, UNHCR agreed to build an office and house for the
District Officer, to open a UNHCR office in Fafi district
and to re-write their firewood collection contracts so
firewood will be sought outside Fafi District. UNHCR
believes word of this agreement angered Farah Maalim, the
Member of Parliament (MP) of Lagadera District, with whom
it had also been negotiating for additional land. Maalim
has been a persistently harsh critic of UNHCR and the
refugees in Dadaab (Note: UNHCR's main compound in Dadaab
housing UNHCR and NGO operations and staff is located in
Lagadera district, as are Ifo and Dagahaley refugee

5. (SBU) UNHCR believes MP Maalim provoked demonstrations
by about 100 local women and children outside UNHCR's
Dadaab compound the week of September 29 which resulted in
stones thrown at UN vehicles (WFP reported having the
windshield of one vehicle was damaged) and the injury of
two demonstrators by a tear gas canister police used to
disperse the crowd. When UNHCR requested that a committee
of community leaders be formed to discuss their concerns,
UNHCR was, instead, handed a letter, which UNHCR believes

NAIROBI 00002441 002 OF 003

was written by representatives of Maalim, outlining the
communities' demands: the relocation of the refugees away
from Dadaab and, if that was not possible, the
construction of a fence around Ifo and Dagahaley camps
confining all refugees and their livestock to the camps;
dismissal of all non-local Kenyan staff and replacement
with "Dadaabians" by October 31; restriction of trucks
over 10 metric tons from using local roads to deliver food
and non-food items; implementation of an environmental
audit; and, the creation of a regional development plan.

6. (SBU) The uncompromising tone of the letter, the
demonstration of locals outside UNHCR headquarters that
disrupted operations for almost one week, and Maalim's
declared intention to return to Dadaab in late October
with the Minister of Arid Lands has alarmed UNHCR. UNHCR
is concerned that the Dadaab communities' traditional
tolerance demonstrated towards refugees is being
manipulated by local politicians and could deteriorate
further while UNHCR is struggling to accommodate growing
numbers of refugees. UNHCR fears that Maalim's stoking of
community intolerance and hostility has the potential to
jeopardize the delivery of relief supplies and the
restrict ability of international humanitarian agencies to
operate in the camps. UNHCR is also concerned that the
escalation in tensions could lead to attacks on refugees
and that increasingly restrictive limits on refugee
movements could compound the stress refugees already
experience due to overcrowded conditions.

Other Security Concerns

7. (SBU) UNHCR has maintained a collaborative working
relationship with Government of Kenya (GOK) security and
police officials. GOK officials are taking fingerprints of
all new arrivals at the time of registration. GOK
security officials are present in the camps and
occasionally arrest refugees suspected of engaging in
combatant activities inside Somalia (Note: UNHCR is able
to visit detained or arrested refugees). UNHCR has told
us the GOK has is concerned that the camp's medical
facilities may be treating combatants along with asylum
seekers injured inside Somalia. GOK security officials
are now insisting that any refugee seeking medical
treatment for a war wound (gunshot or shrapnel injury) be
transported and treated at Garissa hospital. GTZ, the
German NGO operating the camp's medical centers, and UNHCR
report that at least 19 asylum seekers had been treated
for war wounds between July and September.

8. (SBU) Since the closing of the Liboi transit center
earlier this year, UNHCR has not been able to screen
asylum seekers other than at the Dagahaley Registration
Center. The inability to screen asylum-seekers thoroughly
before they enter the camp, and the lack of information
about officials of the Transitional Federal Government
(TFG) and other organizations party to the Somali conflict
has led UNHCR to admit some individuals to the camps
despite the security concerns posed by their presence in
the camps. UNHCR currently believes at least 16 former
TFG officials reside in the camp or are awaiting entry to
the camp. While no threats or security incidents have
emerged so far, UNHCR is concerned that any incident -
such as an assassination - of a former TFG official in the
camp could inflame the refugees' political sentiments and
result in the politicization of the refugee population,
with potentially violent results. UNHCR is considering
relocating the former TFG officials to Nairobi or Kakuma
to mitigate this risk. (Note: Members of Post's Somalia
Unit and Military Information Support Team members
met with UNHCR on October 17 to exchange information on
developments inside Somalia that could impact UNHCR Dadaab
operations. UNHCR has subsequently passed on the names of
identified or suspected TFG officials in the camps to the
Somalia Unit for any additional information that might
prove useful to UNHCR in determining the individual's
claim to asylum).

9. (SBU) Although UNHCR can not confirm the presence of
ICU (Islamic Courts Union) members, Bud Crandell, the CARE
Country Director, reports that ICU members are in the
camps and recruitment is occurring. According to
Crandell, members of the ICU are offering refugees a
salary of $300/month to join them and return to Somalia to
fight the TFG. Religious schools teaching the basics of
Islam have become more noticeable in the camps, according

NAIROBI 00002441 003 OF 003

to UNHCR. However, the schools' proliferation is due more
to the lack of formal educational opportunities than to a
growth in religious sentiment. UNHCR does not believe
there has been any increase in more formalized madrassas
within the camps.


10. (SBU) The continued influx of refugees in already
overcrowded camps, host community demonstrations
restricting UNHCR's operations, and the representatives of
parties to the Somali conflict in the camps are
compounding the stress on UNHCR, the refugees, and host
communities. UNHCR recognizes there are valid reasons for
Kenyan resentment toward the rapidly increasing refugee
population. However, Maalim's stoking of community
antagonism towards the UN and the un-compromising threats
to UNHCR's efforts on behalf of the refugees, only make
more difficult the search for ways to decongest the Dadaab
camps. End Comment.


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