Afghanistan + 5 more

UNHCR briefing notes: Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania/Kenya

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News and Press Release
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Originally published
Kris Janowski - Media Relations
This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

1) Afghanistan emergency

According to various sources (including the Iranian Red Crescent Society) at least 1,000 Afghans are reportedly camping out in the open close to the Makaki camp, which the IRCS has set up inside Afghanistan's Nimroz province, not far from the border with Iran. They have not been allowed to enter the camp, which the IRCS says has already reached its capacity with as many as 6,000 Afghans.

UNHCR's representative in Iran has requested an urgent meeting with Iranian officials to discuss the situation and emphasize the need for camps at the so-called "zero point" between the two countries to accommodate new arrivals.

Camps inside Afghanistan close to the borders of Iran and Pakistan continue to cause considerable protection concerns, both for the inhabitants and for aid workers. The presence of armed fighters in or near the camps present an obvious danger to the displaced, including for young men facing forced recruitment by both the Taliban and the opposition Northern Alliance.

In another indication of the insecurity in the camps in Afghanistan, a 12-year-old boy was shot yesterday in Makaki. He was later brought out of the camp and taken to a hospital in nearby Zahedan, Iran, but died of his wounds this morning.

2) Heavy rains leave thousands of refugees without shelter in Kenya

Four days of torrential rains and high winds at Kakuma in northwestern Kenya have destroyed over 7,000 refugee huts, leaving more than a quarter of the camp population without shelter and raising serious health concerns for the population of 81,000. The downpour has flooded latrines and affected camp water systems, and aid workers have been forced to suspend the distribution of a two-week ration scheduled to begin last week.

Kakuma, which hosts primarily Sudanese refugees, is located in an arid region, some 800 kms northwest of Kenya's capital, Nairobi. It receives about 500mm of rainfall annually. Staff at the site called the heavy rains "unprecedented." Family shelters are usually constructed of dried mud and branches, with thatch and plastic sheeting used for roofing. Many of the huts were old and unable to withstand the heavy rains.

UNHCR staff rushed to distribute 1,500 plastic sheets - the entire camp stock - and are moving refugees into schools and other community centres as an emergency measure. Priority is being given to vulnerable families. Each community centre can hold up to 25 families and has water and latrine facilities. The agency is dispatching trucks from Nairobi today carrying another 2,500 plastic sheets, 1,000 blankets and seven tents to Kakuma. An additional 2,000 pieces of plastic sheeting will soon be dispatched from UNHCR's regional stocks in Ngara, Tanzania.

Construction of new shelters is beginning today. Food distribution resumed yesterday. Relocated refugees will receive blankets, clothes and environment-friendly stoves and fuel. A crisis committee of agencies and NGOs is digging new latrines and installing clean water distribution points on higher ground around the camp. Health workers are tracking sanitation conditions at the site and are prepared for an immunization campaign if needed. Additional UNHCR staff are being dispatched from Nairobi and the agency is approaching other organizations for more shelter material.

3) Last Tanzanian refugees fly home from Kenya

The last group of Tanzanian refugees who fled civil disturbances to Kenya early this year began repatriating by air this morning, with a UNHCR-chartered aircraft making two flights today from Dadaab camp to Pemba island. Two more flights will follow Wednesday from Dadaab, in northeastern Kenya, to Zanzibar, returning the final 86 Tanzanian islanders still in the camp.

More than 2,000 people, mostly residents of Pemba sympathetic to the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), left that island and Zanzibar by boat earlier this year for the Kenyan coastal town of Shimoni after CUF supporters and Tanzanian security forces clashed on 27 January. Between 17 and 19 May, 667 refugees volunteered to repatriate with UNHCR by sea from Shimoni following assurances from the government of Tanzania that they would not be prosecuted as a group for their involvement in the demonstrations. Other refugees returned home on their own.

Those returning this week are part of the group of 505 who chose to move to Dadaab in May rather than repatriate. Until September, when UNHCR operated two direct flights to the islands from Dadaab, just 49 people had decided to repatriate since their transfer from the coast. With the four flights this week, that figure will climb to 224. No Tanzanian refugees will remain in Dadaab.

Of the remaining number who were moved to the camp, 194 people are known to have quit the site and travelled to Mogadishu, Somalia. UNHCR is not offering any material assistance to the refugees who voluntarily left Kenya.

UNHCR maintained a full-time presence on Pemba for four months after the May repatriation. Staff who continue to monitor the reintegration process say the situation is stable and that returnees have not been harassed or arrested. In October, the leader of the opposition CUF, observing that the government had "lived up to its promises," called on the last refugees to return home. UNHCR is working closely with the government, the CUF and returnee families. Each returnee receives a US$50 grant from UNHCR to help them with basic needs on arrival.

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