Somalia: Preparing for new tides of refugees

For more than a decade Somalia has been in the grip of chaos and anarchy, and the humanitarian situation is disastrous. Over 160,000 refugees are living in camps in Kenya. New waves of refugees from the crisis-ridden country are expected.

As if the misery of war, hunger and a drought in Somalia were not enough: Due to floods, several sections of the Ifo refugee camp in Kenya, near the city of Dadaab in eastern Kenya, had to be relocated. Around 30,000 people needed a new place to live. This was certainly not an easy task, confirms Hans Keller, member of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA). "The landscape is flat as a pancake here, we had to make do with an area situated only one metre higher."

Keller is working in Kenya on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The reason for his mission was the precarious situation in Ifo, but new tasks are already waiting. "Should the Somali border be reopened, we are prepared to accommodate 30,000 new displaced persons." Preparation is indispensable - in the past there was already one period where the number of camp dwellers increased by 30,000 within a short time. Around 400,000 internally displaced persons live in extremely difficult conditions in Somalia.

Switzerland's CHF 3 million commitment

Swiss humanitarian aid officials are very concerned about growing restrictions that hamper humanitarian activities. Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have increased drastically in Somalia. Switzerland contributed CHF 3 million to aid activities in 2006 to help confront growing emergencies. Aid activities are being implemented in collaboration with SHA's partner organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). The WFP is running aid transports from Nairobi to Mogadishu. Closure of the Somali border and an extremely unstable security situation have repeatedly led to interruptions of this vital connection.