30/08/08 (B463) Shabelle / La violence augmente le nombre des réfugiés qui entrent au Kenya – Sharp increase in number of refugees entering Kenya (En Anglais – Info lecteur)

Instability in southern Somalia has led to a sharp increase in the number of refugees entering Kenya.

At least 25,000 Somali refugees have arrived in Kenya since the beginning of the year to join 130,000 others living in refugee camps since 1991 in the arid Dadaab area in the northeastern province, said officials

There are only a handful of wells to provide water, food is carefully rationed by the World Food Programme, and most people live in flimsy huts made from bits of twig bound together with string and covered in plastic sheeting from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The land is flat, and the shrubs are almost exclusively thorn bushes with spines as long and hard as nails.

And yet still the Somalis come, at a rate of at least 200 a day.

Those thronging the fence are hoping to jump the queue for registration as refugees – a status that gives them a fighting chance at a relatively safe and stable life denied to them at home in Somalia.

Bitter fighting

Take Dahawa Mohammed Noor. Back home in Mogadishu, she had a good life as a wife, a teacher and a mother of nine.

But the fighting between the Islamist insurgents on the one hand and Ethiopian forces backing the Transitional Federal Government on the other, has grown ever more bitter over the past few months.

Dahawa and her family managed, but only just.

She and her husband struggled to keep their children fed as the cost of food more than trebled over the past six months.

But Dahawa and her family were determined to stay – Mogadishu was their home, after all.

Then the fighting drifted towards their corner of the city.

In one bloody, terrifying night, Dahawa said soldiers raided their neighbourhood.

With tears streaming down her face, she was unable to explain exactly what happened, except that her husband and five of her children were all killed.

With the surviving members of her family, Dahawa fled Mogadishu, and spent three weeks trekking and hitching rides through Somalia’s western desert to the Kenyan border and the relative security of Dadaab.

Dahawa’s story is tragic, but it is hardly unusual.

Bandit culture

Bloodshed, drought and starvation are all contributing to what amounts to a perfect storm for aid agencies.

A UN analysis of food security in Somalia found 3.25 million people desperately in need of humanitarian support – a figure 77% higher than their estimates at the beginning of the year, and one which represents 43% of the entire population.

The civil war lies at the heart of the crisis. I’m telling the Somalis ‘enough, enough’ – 18 years (they’ve been at war) and I think it’s the right time now that they sit together

The escalating battles between the mosaic of factions and clans have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

They have also created a culture of banditry and piracy that makes it all but impossible for aid agencies to deliver food, medicines or shelter to large parts of the country.

The UN describes the current security situation as the worst since the conflict began 17 years ago.

The violence has also contributed to an economic crisis made worse by the uncontrolled printing of cash to fund the war.

Together with soaring prices for imported fuel and food, the surplus of Somali shillings has triggered hyperinflation that has forced the cost of food up 700% in the past year.

That, in turn, has created a new class of urban poor, unable to feed themselves.

And on top of it all, a drought – now in its fourth year – has all but destroyed crops and livestock across much of the south.

Diplomatic frustration

For the UN Secretary General’s Humanitarian Envoy, Abdul Aziz Arrukban, the situation is exasperating.

The number of refugees is expected to surge in the coming months

He has just completed a tour of the region, including a brief visit to the town of Wajid in the south of Somalia.

On a tour through the Dadaab refugee centre, the Saudi-born diplomat waved his hands in frustration.

« In the market (in Wajid), I picked up an egg, and I asked how much it was. Do you know that egg cost 20 US cents? » Mr Arrukban asks.

« That is more than five times what it cost six months ago. That’s just too much, » he continues. « How can these people pay for that? It’s impossible. »

Mr Arrukban’s job is to facilitate the humanitarian response to the crisis, but he was also quick to admit that it is just a band-aid.

« I’m telling the Somalis ‘enough, enough’ – 18 years (they’ve been at war) and I think it’s the right time now that they sit together, » he says.

« They must figure out some way to find peace because building more camps (like Dadaab) is not the solution, » he adds.

That prospect appears a long way off.

The UNHCR says while the daily numbers of refugees now arriving in Dadaab are at an all-time high, they expect them to surge still further over the coming weeks and months.