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Thousands of Somali refugees flee into Kenya

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A huge surge of Somalis continue to stream into Kenya fearing a possible all-out escalation of war between warring factions in Somalia. The flow of refugees crossing the border had jumped from an average of 300 to 400 people a day to more than 1,000 over the past few weeks. Some of the refugees arrived Kenya from Somalia via the Liboi border post, some 184 km northeast of Garissa, while others arrived through Amuma. The refugees have gone through harsh and risky circumstances with little food and water before arriving at Dadaab. Some require medical attention. Among the new arrivals are 1% to 2% unaccompanied minors aged between 5 years and 14 years who are vulnerable and at risk.

More refugees from Kulamin in Somalia arrived Kenya unexpectedly through Mandera town. 109 refugees, mostly women and children, arrived through the Border Point One Village in Mandera Town in the last few days. After positive discussions between the District Commissioner of the Gedo Region of Somali and the Mandera District Commissioner, the refugees were returned back to the Gedo Region. However, the two DCs from Mandera and Gedo Region noted that there was a high possibility of an influx of refugees into Mandera if fighting escalates. The Kenyan coastal district of Lamu, at the frontier town of Kiunga, is being monitoring for possible movement of refugees entering the country from Somalia using small boats.

The influx of refugees is putting a severe strain on already stretched resources at the Dadaab Refugee Camp. The newcomers, mostly from Mogadishu, Kismayu and Baidoa, have pushed to more than 30,000 the number of Somalis to have arrived in Kenya since the beginning of the year when heavy fighting between warring factions intensified. According to UNHCR, those who came earlier in the year said they moved because of food insecurity that had gripped much of the Horn of Africa during a severe drought.

Dadaab Refugee Camp, a sprawling complex of three camps - Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahle - about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Somali border and 470 kilometers (290 miles) northeast of Nairobi, is home to now 160,000 refugees, mainly Somalis.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991 when warlords overthrew the then President and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy. However, after years of brokering peace under the mediation of the Kenyan Government through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an official government was formed in Somalia in 2004, with further UN help, in hopes of restoring order after years of lawlessness.

On 16th October 2006, the Government of Kenya issued an alert following the reported case of a polio outbreak after a child was diagnosed suffering from the highly infectious disease in Hagadera refugee camps in Dadaab. This was the first case of polio reported in Kenya since 1984. Medics isolated the child in a bid to prevent spread of the contagious disease.

According to the media, Somali became re-infected by the polio virus from an Arab country after three years polio-free. To-date, there are 215 confirmed cases and the virus has hit 14 out of Somalia's 19 regions. With the large influx of refugees into Kenya, there is a high potential for the transmission of contagious viruses from Somali children, who are not immunised. The Ministry of Heath, UNHCR and other agencies have stepped up medical screening and immunisation of children at Liboi and Amuma entry points.

"We distributed 30 MT of food, 2 MT of mineral water, 50 bales of clothes and 100 pieces of jerricans to 109 refugees from Somalia, mostly women and children who had crossed into Kenya through Mandera's Border Point One Village," said Mr. Ahmed Abdi, the Kenya Red Cross Society's Acting Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response.

There have been high level meetings between UNHCR and the National Society, at which both agencies agreed to sign a standby MOU for potential partnership should the situation deteriorate. Some of the salient aspects of the agreement with UNHCR are that the National Society will:

- Provide ambulance services in Dadaab to ferry refugees to health facilities in Liboi.

- Conduct medical screening of refugees at Liboi and Amuma entry points into Kenya.

- Provide transportation of refugees using M621 trucks.

- Provide relief food and non-food items using M621 trucks.

- Lease out M621 trucks for 3 months.

- Water trucking and tankering services where necessary.

However, UNHCR requested the National Society for an immediate support with ten M621 transportation trucks for a period of two months in Dadaab. The agreement also includes the use of the trucks for food distribution and other related activities.

Currently, the National Society conducts Tracing Services in both the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps funded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). A Tracing Assessment Mission was conducted between ICRC and the National Society to determine Tracing needs in Dadaab vis-à-vis the increasing number of Somali refugees. The Tracing programme is also supporting the needs of unaccompanied minors. Though strict due to security concerns, the Kenyan authorities continue to coordinate well with the relief agencies on the ground.

The Kenya Red Cross Society has had previous similar experiences during the Somalia refugee crisis in 1991, when a large refugee population was accommodated at refugee camps in Mombasa, Utanga and Marafa in the Coast Province. Through an understanding with UNHCR, the National Society was responsible for the refugee camp management and Tracing Services at the Kenyan Coast.