NAIROBI, 17 May 2011 (IRIN) - Facilities in refugee camps in northeastern Kenya have been stretched to the limit, aid workers say, as more and more Somali refugees flee the conflict at home.
"Dadaab refugee camps continue to receive a significant number of new arrivals who are often very tired and exhausted, having travelled very far, sometimes from as far as [the Somali capital] Mogadishu, in some cases on foot [over 1,000km]," said Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in Kenya.
As of 15 May, Nyabera said, Dadaab, the world's biggest refugee complex, was home to at least 348,605 people - most of them Somalis - almost four times its designated capacity, and facilities "were stretched to the limit". According to the agency, the three camps, Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley were established to accommodate 90,000 refugees.
The closure of the border by Kenya in early 2007 did little to stem the tide. According to UNHCR, some 43,001 persons have been registered since the start of 2011, 42,218 of them Somalis.
"[Some] 1,711 individuals have been registered during the week of 9-15 May 2011," said the agency.
A new camp extension, IFO II, was planned to ease the overcrowding and accommodate new arrivals. But the government of Kenya has halted construction work and refused to allow the camp to open, citing objections from the host community and national security, says Oxfam GB.
As more and more refugees arrive at Dadaab, others are reported to be waiting at the border on the Somali side, according to the new arrivals.
An independent local journalist at the border told IRIN that hundreds of families were camping in Dobley, 15km from the Kenya-Somalia border, and in Dajabuula, 20km from the border, as well as in Liboi, 4km from the border. "They are all waiting for a chance to cross into Kenya," he added.
Murayo Ibrahim, 24, mother of three, crossed into Kenya on 15 May with her family. "We came in with 22 other families, but they [Kenya security forces] detained five families and returned them to Somalia."
Ibrahim fled the town of Saako, in the Middle Juba region, southern Somalia.
"There is no security, with fighting a daily occurrence. With no peace and no food because of the drought, we decided to leave and come here," she said.
Ibrahim said camp life was not what she thought it would be. "We are barely eating and to get water you have to walk long distances; I live with another family sharing a very small shelter covered by plastic sheeting.
"There are no guns or fighting, but life is very difficult," she added.
Ibrahim Nur, a community elder in Dadaab, told IRIN the new refugees faced many problems. "There is a problem of shelter; everywhere you go is overcrowded. We don't have much of a health service."
He said the bigger problem, however, was the shortage of water. "We sometimes have to walk 5km to fetch water and sometimes it is not safe for the women."
Waiting to cross
However, Nur said, many more Somalis were likely to cross into Kenya, despite facing such difficulties.
"I have many relatives who have come to the border and are waiting to enter; unfortunately, Dadaab seems to be the only place where we can escape the killing fields of Somalia."
Meanwhile, the fighting between AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)-backed government forces and Al-Shabab insurgents continues in Mogadishu, with government forces making some headway, according to local sources.
A civil society source in Mogadishu told IRIN Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government was "organizing its forces better, clamping down on corruption and paying the soldiers’ salaries on time".
However, the source said the flow of Somali refugees into Kenya would continue for the foreseeable future. He said the fighting was spreading throughout the south and centre of the country.
Fighting is ongoing between pro-government forces and Al-Shabab in the Juba valley, Gedo, Bay and Bakol (southern Somalia) and Galgadud and Hiiraan (central Somalia), the civil society source said.
"As long as there is no security and people feel unsafe, they will continue to move."
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]