Kenya security fears stall refugee camp expansion

April 3, 2011 12:00 am

, DADAAB, Apr 3 – Security fears have frozen a plan to enlarge the world\’s biggest refugee camp, the Dadaab complex hosting hundreds of thousands of Somalis in eastern Kenya, authorities said on Sunday.

Some 330,000 refugees are sheltering in the grouping of three camps after fleeing two decades of conflict in Somalia, now largely controlled by Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has asked Kenya to allocate more land to ease congestion at Dadaab, but the government recently halted the opening of a new camp to relocate some 80,000 refugees.

"Security is a big concern for the Kenyan government. It is also our big concern," UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres told reporters while visiting the camps on Sunday, adding that the agency was discussing the issue with the government.

Somalia\’s Shabab rebels have repeatedly threatened attacks on Kenya, accusing Nairobi of supporting Somalia\’s transitional federal government, which they are fighting to topple.

Kenya\’s long and porous border with Somalia has long been a security worry for Nairobi.

"The government is concerned about the security situation across the border, but we are putting everything in order to ensure that we have security in the camps," said Badu Kadelo, Kenya\’s acting commissioner for refugee affairs.

While security fears have halted the decongestion plans, aid officials also said Kenyan authorities had voiced concern that more permanent, iron-roofed houses built to take in more Somalis would spark an even bigger influx.

Somalia has had no effective central government since civil war broke out in 1991, and several international attempts to end the fighting have failed.

Mr Guterres appealed to the international community to offer "much stronger support for humanitarian action in Somalia and a much stronger engagement to make sure peace comes to Somalia."

Recent clashes between Somali pro-government forces and Shabab militia in the south of the country near the Kenyan border have forced nearly 30,000 to flee their homes since the start of the year, according to the UNHCR.

"The biggest problem we have here is shelter," said 36-year-old Sara Abdi Hussein, a mother of 10 who recently fled to Kenya.


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