UN refugee chief heads to Kenya after reviewing situation in Egypt

Somalis near the Kenyan border

1 April 2011 – The head of the United Nations refugee agency has concluded a two-day visit to Egypt to review the response to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the unrest in Libya, as his office voiced concern that thousands of people could be trapped in areas where fighting is taking place.

António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, met with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and thanked the authorities in Cairo for keeping borders open to refugees fleeing from Libya, even as Egypt itself is dealing with the consequences of the recent tumultuous political changes.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hopes that it will be able, as part of the overall UN humanitarian response, to gain full access to people inside eastern Libya in the coming days, the agency’s spokesperson, Andrej Mahecic, told reporters in Geneva.

He said a UNHCR team at the Sallum border crossing reported that movement across the Libyan-Egyptian frontier has slowed. Yesterday, a number of Libyan families from Brega and Benghazi arrived at Sallum following reported advances by Libyan Government troops against opposition fighters, according to Mr. Mahecic.

More than 161,000 people fleeing Libya have crossed the border into Egypt since mid-February, including some 83,000 Egyptians and 32,000 Libyans.

Mr. Guterres left Egypt late yesterday for Kenya to draw attention to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the East African country and review UNHCR’s operations there.

On Sunday, and accompanied by Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran and Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women, Mr. Guterres will visit the cluster of three camps in the Dadaab area of Kenya’s Northeastern province, the largest refugee settlement in the world. Dadaab currently hosts more than 320,000 refugees, the vast majority from Somalia.

The camps were set up in 1991 and 1992 in the wake of the mass exodus from Somalia that followed the toppling of the regime of Muhammad Siad Barre. The settlements – Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera – were initially designed to accommodate 90,000 refugees. Overcrowding at the camps continues to be a concern to the Kenyan Government and UNHCR.

Living conditions in the camps have deteriorated as the refugee population continues to grow, with facilities and services stretched to the limit. With the recent escalation of violence in Somalia, some 2,500 new arrivals are being registered in Dadaab every week. So far this year, Dadaab has received more than 30,000 new refugees, according to Mr. Mahecic.

The camp at Ifo has been expanded, but the planned relocation of 40,000 refugees is on hold due to security concerns on the part of the Kenyan authorities.

Amenities at the new camp include schools, health facilities, communal centres, water and sanitation infrastructure and shelter.

During his mission to Kenya Mr. Guterres will also look into the protection of Somali refugees and UNHCR’s support to Kenya and local communities hosting refugees.


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