The dramatic conditions inside the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya – which, as the world’s largest camp, is presently home to 280,000 Somalis – have elevated Dadaab on the list of the U.N.’s priorities, according to the U.N.’s top refugee official.
Improving the situation for the residents of Dadaab camp is “an absolute priority for the investment we are making together with our partner organizations,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said yesterday at a press briefing.
The high commissioner was in Washington to discuss the findings of the refugee agency’s most recent Global Trends report, which compiles the total number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people through the end of 2008.
The number of people uprooted from their homes dropped last year, but the impression that the problem of displacement is improving is only “an illusion,” Guterres said. While the figures for 2008 indicate that there was a slight decline in the total number of uprooted people worldwide, displacement caused by intensified armed conflict in the first part of 2009 has already negated this improvement.
There is an illusion of stability in displacement in the report, but that indeed is an illusion. At the end of 2008 we had 42 million people displaced against their will, which represents a level that corresponds more or less to level of one year before (…) But in the first months of 2009, we have witnessed an acceleration of displacement that has more than offset the eventual small decrease in the whole of 2008.
Those intensified conflict zones include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia. Guterres remarks focused primarily on Pakistan, but in response to a question from Enough about the Dadaab camp in southern Kenya, which has seen an influx of Somalis, Guterres had this to say:
If I had to select one location in the world where we have the biggest challenge of providing support to people is exactly Dadaab in Kenya, where we have about 280,000 Somalis in an area that was prepared for a much smaller number…To run a city of 280,000 people in the middle of nowhere. You can’t imagine how difficult it is, where everything needs to [be delivered]… It is very challenging.
The camp was built to accommodate far fewer inhabitants, but since the beginning of the year, Dadaab has seen an influx of 4,000-5,000 new arrivals each month, according to Guterres. For the time being, UNHCR aims to address these dire conditions by expanding the camp, but the agency has so far been unsuccessful in negotiating for more land from the Kenyan government. Guterres explained:
Kenya has been very generous in hosting so many people, but we would like to have a more effective way to support the people coming [to Dadaab].
With violence in Somalia on the rise though still under the international radar, solutions to the humanitarian catastrophe inside Somalia’s borders and among those who managed to flee are tragically limited.
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