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Kenya-Somalia: New arrivals in dire need of help

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EL WAK, 26 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Ibrahim Adan, a 31-year-old schoolteacher in the Kenya-Somalia border town of El Wak, was able to adequately provide for his family of five until April, when an influx of people fleeing violence in Somalia suddenly made him responsible for three additional families.

"Now I am hosting 21 people, including 15 children. I have a lot of debts," said the father of three, whose salary of 9,000 Kenya shillings (US $118) a month is inadequate to support 21 refugees from Somalia and his unemployed brother's 11 children.

In the last few months, residents of the dusty town of El Wak have had to accommodate 17,000 refugees who escaped fighting between the Marehan and Garre clans over the control of the trading town of Buro-ache, also known as El-Waaq, on the Somali side of the border.

When the Marehan drove them out of Buro-Hache, the mainly Garre refugees sought accommodation with their kinsmen in El Wak, located in Kenya's northeastern district of Mandera.

They have received no humanitarian assistance, and their presence in El Wak has become a heavy burden on the local population.

"I keep incurring expenses and sometimes I have to beg relatives in Nairobi [Kenya's capital] to send us money," Adan said.

Adan's family has had to move from the main house to an adjacent makeshift shelter that previously served as the kitchen to maintain some semblance of privacy and create more room for their numerous visitors.

RESOURCES STRETCHED

As the refugees have poured into El Wak, the increased demand for commodities has pushed prices out of the reach of many residents of the town.

A kilogram of sugar, for example, which until recently cost 35 shillings ($0.46), is now going for 70 shillings ($0.9), said James Kobia, the government officer in charge of El Wak. A kilogram of camel meat, a staple in the region, now costs 140 shillings ($1.8), up from 80 shillings ($1.05) before the mass exodus began.

"The situation is quite tense as the clashes have continued [in Buro-Hache]. The situation on the ground [in El Wak] is quite pathetic and very, very little assistance has been provided," said Mohammed Qazilbash, senior programme manager for emergency and refugee operations in the Kenyan office of the NGO, CARE International.

"The needs are tremendous, from shelter to food to health provision to water and sanitation provisions," added Qazilbash, who travelled to El Wak on 21 July to draw up an intervention strategy.

He said CARE would address the shelter, sanitation and health aspects of the problem.

"The refugees are in a desperate situation and we have to do something," Waweru Kimani, Mandera district commissioner, told IRIN. He ruled out the possibility of setting up a refugee camp in El Wak, citing security considerations.

Issak Abdi Ibrahim, 65, who arrived in El Wak on 9 April accompanied by his wife and eight children, wondered why no relief organisation had addressed their plight despite so many assessments of their needs by humanitarian agencies.

"We have no property to survive on here. The families and friends who were supporting us are now destitute," he said.

"Survival has become difficult, our children are malnourished - we need food, shelter and medicines," Hussein Adan Salat, another refugee, said.

Local officials in El Wak said there was an urgent need to improve the capacity of the hospital in the town.

Prior to the refugees' arrival, the hospital treated some 800 people every month, but now caters for an average of 2,000 patients a month, the hospital's clinical officer, Ahmed Ali Maalim, said.

The hospital has no doctor, and only three nurses assist Maalim.

"Human waste is scattered all over because of lack of sanitary facilities leading to water contamination in the wells and increasing diarrhoeal diseases," Hassan Ibrahim, the medical officer of health in charge of El Wak, said.

Adan, who teaches at El Wak's DEB primary school, which has enrolled many of the refugee children, appealed for supplementary feeding for those aged four to eight years, many of whom he said were malnourished.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was prepared to work with other agencies to help the refugees but would not, at the moment, set up a presence in the area.

"At this point we do not think it is necessary to establish a UNHCR-specific presence, but we are ready to work with other agencies. Any intervention we make at this point would have to be within a joint agency humanitarian approach," Emmanuel Nyabera, UNHCR spokesman in Kenya, said.

He said a large UNHCR presence in El Wak would likely encourage more people to leave their villages on the Somali side and cross over to the Kenyan side.

[ENDS]

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