Monday, July 25, 2011

Misery continues at famine relief camps

A mass of misery is begging to collect at the refugee tent camps outside of the Somalia border. People are fleeing the famine-stricken and war-torn areas of Somalia hoping to find some relief at the camps. Overwhelmed with the amount of people arriving each day, aid and food distributions have been slow. The people who traveled far for relief and then have to wait longer once they arrive are beginning to get frustrated.

From the Guardian, writer Matteo Fagotto reports from one of the camps.

Several hundred people have gathered at the registration point at Daghaley, one of three refugee camps around Dadaab. The family-run businesses of these small farmers and cattle herders from Somalia have been wiped out by the worst drought in the Horn of Africa for 60 years. They patiently wait to be registered by agents of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most came here after weeks on foot in the desert, unable to afford any transport. They walked for days at the mercy of bandits in the porous border area between Somalia and Kenya.

This year alone, more than 100,000 Somalis have fled from the lack of rain in their country to shelter in what has become the biggest refugee camp complex in the world. They are escaping a war zone. The Islamic militants of al-Shabab, who control much of the country outside the capital, Mogadishu, and are fighting an insurgency against the transitional federal government, have vowed to keep most international aid workers away, despite the situation.

The UN warns that 800,000 children could die from starvation, and last week declared a famine in some parts of the country. For thousands of desperate Somalis, the only solution has been a long march in the hope of reaching refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Set up at the start of the 1990s for victims of the Somali civil war and designed for a refugee population of 90,000 people, Dadaab, some 60 miles over the border in Kenya, now hosts more than 380,000 refugees. According to Doctors Without Borders, the number could reach 450,000 by the end of the year. As more arrive every day, the camps are becoming appallingly overcrowded. Delivery of food has become erratic.

Tensions and frustrations have begun to spill over. Yesterday, angry young men stoned the UNHCR compound in Daghaley, enraged by the endless waiting and their place at the back of the queue. Many come every day, only to be told to return next morning. Given the enormous demands on resources, people are screened according to their vulnerability. Families with more than eight members and with old people are prioritised, said social worker Aden Sirat Olow, who works in the UNHCR centre in Daghaley. "They are first fed, then given food items, blankets and a tent. Single men and young people have to wait more because their cases are not as serious. We are registering more than 1,000 people a day in this camp alone."

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