Kenya + 1 more

Kenya-Somalia: Somali refugees struck by insecurity

NAIROBI, 24 November (IRIN) - Insecurity in the Kenyan Daadab refugee camps has left Somali refugees vulnerable to rape and armed attacks, but the Kenyan police lack resources to cope with the situation. In response, UNHCR has injected resources into local police stations to improve the situation for more than 126,000 refugees in Daadab, which consists of the Ifo, Dagahale and Hagadera camps, North Eastern Province.
UNHCR spokesman Newton Kanhema confirmed that US $80,000 had been provided this year for fuel, vehicle maintenance and allowances for policemen who act as armed escorts for staff travelling to and from the camp. "Responsibility for security lies with the host government, but we have a problem if the Kenyan police do not have sufficient resources... Our operation would come to a standstill," Kanhema told IRIN. UNHCR also facilitates the mobile courts which come twice a month to the Daadab camps. Refugees charged with offences - from theft to carrying arms - are tried by the mobile courts. If they are convicted they are subject to Kenyan law. "Refugee status makes no difference once convicted," Kanhema said.

The insecurity in Daadab came into focus after the US-based Fund for Peace released a report on 14 November, saying the camp was used "by armed groups, including arms-trafficking networks, ethnic militia and bandits". Fund for Peace called the security situation in the camp "desperate", and put the charge to UNHCR. It recommended that firearms be prohibited, policing improved and stricter screening methods be instituted for refugees. UNHCR sources told IRIN that the findings could not be confirmed "on the scale" presented by Fund for Peace, and the report "lacked figures" to back up the charges. However, the sources admitted that there had been "security incidents and banditry" in Daadab.

Kenyan police spokesman Peter Kimanthi told IRIN that there was a "very strong possibility" that the camps were being used to traffic arms. "There have been shooting incidents in the camps," he said, adding that there was a growing problem of small-arms trafficking in Kenya, with weapons being brought into urban areas like Nairobi. "It is easy for people move around with arms on that border with Somalia, because there is no control of weapons in Somalia," he said in a telephone interview. Movement of armed Somalis into Kenya was "very frequent" over a border, which is over 800 km long and with many crossing points, said the police spokesman. Kimanthi charged that a number of people in the Dadaab camp "are not genuine refugees". He said they had come in the first place with the intention of carrying out attacks in the area. "Insecurity can be explained by the number of refugees around who are not genuine," said Kimanthi.

Kenyan police lack resources to cope with the porous border and movement of arms, Kimanthi told IRIN, although "we do our best". He said there was hope that with a central government "coming up" in Somalia, it would be possible to liaise and improve border security.

According to Kanhema, UNHCR has managed to reduce the number of rapes by providing firewood through local contractors: this is trucked into the camps. There are 126,742 refugees in Dadaab, living in a harsh, desert-savannah environment. The US had donated money to assist the project, as "a lot of women have been attacked while collecting firewood outside the camp", Kanhema explained. But only about 30 percent of firewood needs were being met in this way, and women remained vulnerable while searching for fuel, he told IRIN. UNHCR needed more funds to tackle the security problem, although incidences of rape had been reduced. This year, 72 rape cases had been reported, compared to 142 in 1998. There had been 15 killings in the camps this year, nine of which happened in January, said UNHCR.

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