NAIROBI, Kenya — The health of thousands of Somali refugees will be threatened if they are moved from the country's urban areas into a camp near the Kenyan-Somali border, an international aid group has said.
Dadaab refugee camp is overstretched well beyond its original capacity of 90,000 people and to add more refugees will worsen the humanitarian conditions of the camp and increase the risk of disease epidemics, said Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, in a statement Friday.
Earlier this month the Kenyan government decided that all refugees and asylum seekers must return to refugee camps. The decision to move Somali refugees to Dadaab was made because of ongoing insecurity in the country. Kenya has endured more than a year of attacks by explosives and guns which have been blamed on sympathizers of Somali militants who are being fought by Kenyan troops in Somalia.
Dadaab Camp's squalid living conditions and insufficient assistance have been compounded by increasing insecurity over the last year, according to MSF.
"The assistance provided in Dadaab is already completely overstretched and cannot meet existing needs," said Dr. Elena Velilla, MSF's head of mission in Kenya. "In the event of an influx of new arrivals, MSF would not be able to increase its assistance or respond to a new emergency due to ongoing insecurity."
Since the beginning of December, heavy rains have flooded the camps, and the already fragile shelter and sanitation conditions have become even more deplorable, with dramatic consequences for the population's health, said Velilla.
The number of children hospitalized for severe acute malnutrition has doubled, with approximately 300 children hospitalized. Most of them are also suffering from acute watery diarrhoea or severe respiratory tract infections, attributable to the poor living conditions in the camps.
The government through the Department of Refugee Affairs said in a statement earlier this month that Kenya hosts refugees from nine countries. However, given the security environment in Kenya, it's clear the government is most concerned about the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia. Hosting so many refugees, the statement said, brings many challenges, including "rampant insecurity" in refugee camps and urban areas.
"It is in this public domain that many people have been killed and several more injured with grenade attacks in our streets, churches, and buses and in business places," the statement said.
The government said that due to the "unbearable and uncontrollable threat to national security" it had decided that all refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia must return to the large refugee camp complex known as Dadaab, a seemingly endless expanse of refugee housing on the sands of Kenya close to the Somali border. More than 400,000 refugees live in Dadaab, making it the largest refugee camp in the world.
An explosion went off near a voter registration center in Dadaab , wounding one person on Dec 14. The camp has seen several small bomb attacks over the last year.
Kenya sent military forces into Somalia in late 2011. Since then, the country has seen a series of small-scale attacks on churches, bars and at public transportation stops. Most attacks are small, but they have occurred every several weeks for nearly a year. Five people were killed and more than a dozen wounded after an attacker threw a grenade outside a mosque in the Somali neighborhood of Nairobi this month.
Following that attack, security forces began targeting hundreds of refugees who live in that neighborhood, Eastleigh, which is sometimes referred to as "Little Mogadishu." Hundreds of people of Somali origin have been arrested, many because of their immigration status.