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Surge Into Kenya Threatens UN Agency

Somali Refugee Surge Into Kenya Threatens To Put UN Agency Under Severe Strain

New York, Oct 6 2006 11:00AM

The flood of Somalis pouring into neighbouring Kenya over the past two days to escape factional fighting has surged almost five-fold to a rate of 1,000 a day, pushing to more than 30,000 the total of new arrivals this year, and the United Nations refugee agency warned today that its resources in the area could be overwhelmed.

“We are concerned that if the arrival rate of more than 1,000 people a day continues, it will severely strain our limited capacity in Dadaab,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva, referring to the main camp in northern Kenya.

“Because of the limited number of trucks available to us, we have not been able to transport to Dadaab all the refugees waiting at the Amuma border,” she said, adding that the influx comes amid a reported advance by fighters allied to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) into the Juba Valley, currently home to tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The sudden surge follows a steady daily flow of between 200 to 300 refugees, mostly women and children, as the ICU, in control of Mogadishu the capital, the Transitional Federal Government based in Baidoa, and various warlord militias jockey for power.

About 20 per cent of those coming in through the Amuma crossing are urban merchants from Kismayo who say they have lost their businesses. The ICU recently entered the port. The rest are herder families from Lower Juba.

“We are also now seeing more elderly people among the new arrivals,” Ms. Pagonis said, adding that if the flood continues UNHCR will have to build a reception centre at Amuma, a dusty open area with no trees or shelter from the hot sun in Kenya's semi-arid north.

“We are also worried about the water situation in Amuma since the village supply comes from a water-pan that is replenished only during the rainy season,” she said. “Villagers in Amuma have complained that the new refugees are using the water source, the only supply for drinking water, for bathing and laundry. There is potential for the outbreak of water-borne diseases.

There were problems with crowd control in Amuma yesterday as people scrambled for registration to get on to the few trucks available, but calm returned when UNHCR staff explained the logistical constraints and assured the new arrivals that everyone would eventually be transferred to the camps, Ms. Pagonis added.

Ends

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