Horn of Africa drought: Kenya pressed over Ifo II camp

  • 11 July 2011
  • From the section Africa

The head of the United Nations refugee agency has urged Kenya to open a new camp for people fleeing drought and conflict in Somalia.

UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said he had held "constructive" talks with Kenyan Minister George Saitoti.

The Kenyan government has so far refused to authorise the completion of the Ifo II camp, which has room for up to 40,000 people.

It fears it would encourage refugees to stay in the country permanently.

The new facility is close to the Dadaab camp, which has been overwhelmed by the recent influx.

Some 10 million people are said to be affected by the Horn of Africa's worst drought in 60 years.

Somalia, wracked by 20 years of conflict, is worst affected and some 3,000 people flee each day for neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya which are struggling to cope.

Dadaab is reportedly the world's biggest refugee camp - it was built to house 90,000 people but could soon be holding 500,000, aid workers say.

The BBC's Daud Aweis in Kenya says that the UNHCR has been trying to persuade the Kenyan government to open the Ifo II camp for two years but it might succeed this time, as the crisis is so severe.

Mr Guterres had been due to meet Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki on Monday but the talks were called off at the last minute, with no reason given.

Our reporter says that local people, who are also badly affected by the drought, fear that a new influx of refugees could spell environmental disaster for the arid region.

Visiting Dadaab over the weekend, UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said that Somalia was the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

"Here in the outskirts of the Somali refugee camp of Dadaab, we have the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of the vulnerable in the world," he said.

He also urged aid agencies to start working in Somalia, as many people are to weak to walk for weeks to seek help - some malnourished infants are already dying.

Last week, the militant group al-Shabab, which controls many southern and central areas of Somalia, said it was lifting its ban on aid agencies.

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