NAIROBI, October 7 – The government on Monday said it was ‘greatly concerned’ about the influx of refugees to the Dadaab camp in northern Kenya from neighbouring Somalia.
Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang’ told the 59th executive session of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva that the situation had overstretched the capacity of the State to deal with the asylum seekers.
He said priority was now focused on acquiring additional land to de-congest the existing camp and accommodate fresh arrivals.
“This year alone we have received 45,000 new asylum seekers and the camps, which were designed to host a total of 90,000 refugees, are now holding over 250,000,” Mr Kajwang’ said and pointed out that negotiations were ongoing with leaders of local communities to find the extra land.
He noted that the voluntary return of refugees to Southern Sudan had slowed down but expressed hope that it would pick up pace.
“We urge the UNHCR together with other agencies to continue to provide funding for specific host community projects in both refugee camps at Dadaab and Kakuma since it would promote better relations between refugees and host communities,” he said.
Mr Kajwang however said lawlessness in Somalia still posed a grave challenge for Kenya.
“It is a matter of great concern that peace in Somalia still remains elusive. Unless the international community addresses the political situation there, Kenya will continue to receive refugees into the country,” the Immigration Minister said.
He added that it was necessary to develop a strategy and modus operandi in addressing economic and environmental concerns of host communities as a way of ensuring peaceful co-existence between host communities and refugees.
“Climate change, environmental degradation and persistent food crises continue to pose more pressing challenges,” he said and added; “The Kenyan government appreciates the cordial working relationship with the UNHCR office in Nairobi and partners who have been working with us in provision of protection services to refugees and in this regard, we want to thank the government of Denmark for supporting Kenya in building capacity in area of management of refugee affairs.”
In his remarks at the opening of the meeting on Monday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned that the welfare of the world’s poor and uprooted people was increasingly at risk as the international community struggled with a combination of adverse economic, social and political trends that threaten to trigger even more displacement in the future.
Mr Guterres said it would be "tragic" if the current global financial crisis resulted in a decline in funding for humanitarian needs at the same time that demands were increasing dramatically.
He said that post-Cold War hopes for universal peace and prosperity had been overshadowed by the confluence of several difficult global challenges, ranging from climate change and gaping economic disparities to increasing competition for resources. The situation was further complicated by worldwide turbulence in financial markets, a worsening global economic outlook and disturbing developments in the political arena.
"Competition for scarce resources has become an increasingly important factor in provoking and perpetuating violence," Guterres told delegates from ExCom’s 76 member states in Geneva’s Palais des Nations. "We are confronted with a series of interlinked conflicts in an arc of crisis that stretches from South-West Asia to the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Some of them are deepening, with important implications for global security."
He said climate change, extreme poverty and conflict were increasingly inter-related. As a result, forced displacement is on the increase and, along with it, demands on the UNHCR. At the end of 2007, there were 11.4 million refugees, and the number is rising.
The number of internally displaced people – those who, unlike refugees, have not crossed a border – is also rising. Out of the 26 million people who have been internally displaced by armed conflict, UNHCR works with 14 million in 28 countries – more than twice the number in 2005.
Mr Guterres said the global turmoil is reflected in several areas of UNHCR activity. "In the last 18 months, we have provided emergency response support to over 40 countries," said the High Commissioner, who called for a debate on the international community’s response to the growing scale and complexity of forced displacement. "In 2007, we made a total of 197 emergency deployments. We have already exceeded that figure this year."
Funds drawn from UNHCR’s Operational Reserve to address emergencies rose from US$34 million in 2006 to more than US$87 million in 2007 and an expected US$150 million this year. In 2008, UNHCR’s global expenditure will increase to US$1.6 billion, compared to US$1.1 billion in 2006. Guterres said these figures highlighted the dramatic pressure being placed on UNHCR, despite reforms begun in 2006.
"We want to become a more effective, efficient and agile organization, responsive to the needs of our beneficiaries," he said of the reforms, adding that the vast majority of UNHCR’s work in nearly 120 countries is in the field.
The changes include streamlining UNHCR’s Geneva headquarters to devote as many resources as possible to field operations. Guterres said headquarters had been reduced from 1,047 staff at the beginning of 2006 to 747 today. The number is expected to drop below 700 by mid-2009. The proportion of UNHCR’s budget spent on headquarters is expected this year to fall to about 9 percent, from 13.9 percent in 2006.
Globally, the proportion of staff costs was projected to fall from 42.5 percent in 2006 to 33.3 percent next year. Many of the headquarters posts were moved to a new UNHCR global service centre in Budapest, a move expected to save at least US$9 million annually beginning in 2009. Guterres said more posts were being relocated to the field under a decentralization and regionalization programme expected to conclude in mid-2009.
He said more than US$22 million in savings from the reforms had already made "a real difference in the lives of our beneficiaries" by addressing crucial gaps in the areas of malaria, malnutrition and reproductive health, as well as sexual and gender-based violence in several countries.
Declaring that "beneficiaries are not numbers, but people who have rights and needs," Mr Guterres said it was time that UNHCR changed its traditional budget planning process to be based on those needs rather than on the projected levels of support the agency expects to receive from donors. As a result, UNHCR launched a Global Needs Assessment process in eight pilot countries. It would eventually be mainstreamed into all operations.
The High Commissioner reminded ExCom, which approves UNHCR’s annual budget, that the agency must receive appropriate funding if it was to fulfil its protection mandate. Its proposed revised annual budget for 2009 is US$1.275 billion, with an additional $535 million for supplementary programmes.
"While we are doing our very best to minimize costs, our budget does not allow us to meet the global needs of our beneficiaries," he said. "With high food and energy prices, their welfare is seriously at risk. At the same time, we are asked to do more and more and to respond to greater and greater demands.
"I fully recognize the challenges of the current financial environment," he continued. "At the same time, I must point out that the resources required to support the 31 million people we care for are very modest indeed when compared to the sums being spent to bring stability to the international financial system."
Noting that "a hungry man is an angry man," Mr Guterres warned that if the international community failed to meet the basic needs of the world’s poor, "then we can only expect more social and political turmoil in the years to come."
(The UNHCR contributed to this report from Geneva)