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Posts Tagged ‘UNHCR

The world’s biggest refugee camp has no more room

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Residents of the Dadaab camps collect clothes to donate to newly arrived refugees, most of whom have left all their possessions behind in Somalia, February 2011. Photo: The Guardian/Hamza Mohamed

Stranded in the desert of Kenya’s northeastern province, surrounded by mile upon mile of sand and scrubby bushes, 30,000 people are living in makeshift shelters under a burning sun. The families – having crossed the border from neighbouring Somalia, 80 km away – are headed for the refugee camps of Dadaab. But the three camps in the Dadaab area are already full, and there is nowhere for them to stay.

This is the story of the world’s biggest refugee camp, told by Medecines Sans Frontieres. On arrival, the refugees – most of whom are women and children – have no money, no food, no water and no shelter. It takes 12 days, on average, to receive a first ration of food1, and 34 days to receive cooking utensils and blankets from the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, which runs the camps. Until then they have to fend for themselves in a hostile environment.

A woman displays her UN food assistance card in Dadaab, August 2009. Photo: The Guardian/Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In temperatures of 50 degrees, and fearful of attack by hyenas, the families are building fragile shelters in the desert on the camps’ fringes. They use whatever materials they can find: mostly branches and brushwood, tied together to form domed structures, which they cover with cardboard, polythene or torn fabric – anything to provide some shelter from the unrelenting sun and the choking dust.

The camps of Dadaab are surrounded by barren desert. The three camps – Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo – known collectively as the ‘biggest refugee camp in the world’ – were established 20 years ago to house up to 90,000 people escaping violence and civil war in Somalia. With no end to the conflict in sight, there are now more than 350,000 people2 crowded into the camps’ perimeters, while the number of new arrivals is surging. This year, 44,000 new refugees have already been registered, and by the end of 2011 the camps are likely to be home to 450,000 people3, twice the population of Geneva.

As more and more people crowd the camps and the surrounding desert, the availability of essential services – such as water, sanitation and education – is shrinking, and living conditions are getting rapidly worse. An extension to one of the camps, known as Ifo Extension, which has space for 40,000 refugees and could provide a temporary solution to providing shelter for new arrivals, lies half-built and empty due to a breakdown in negotiations between the Kenyan authorities and the UNHCR.

Somali children attend an outdoor class in Dagahaley camp, June 2009. Photo: The Guardian/Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

In a report on the camps The Guardian said that 20 years after the first Somali refugees fled the crisis that ousted President Siad Barre, thousands of people continue to pour across the border from Somalia into north-eastern Kenya into the largest refugee complex in the world. Today, the three refugee camps – Dagahale, Ifo and Hagadera – that make up the overcrowded and chronically underfunded Dadaab complex are home to more than 300,000 people and three generations of refugees.

Mohamad Ali was one of the first to arrive from Somalia when civil war broke out in 1991. He didn’t expect to stay long, but in 20 years he hasn’t set foot outside the complex. Refugees aren’t allowed to leave the camps unless they receive special movement passes. If caught without a pass, they risk arrest, detention or expulsion. Special buses can be taken between each of the complex’s three camps, which are separated from one another by a few kilometres of dust and dry heat.

This is the second time Ali has been made a refugee. Ethnically Somali, he was driven out of his home in Ethiopia to Somalia by the war between the two countries in 1977. He is now 79 years old, and calls Dadaab his home. It’s Kenya’s fourth-largest city, although no Kenyan lives there, he says. The camps were originally designed to house 90,000 people, but with the ongoing crisis in Somalia, official estimates suggest that around 5,000 new refugees arrive each month. Richard Floyer-Acland, the UNHCR representative in Dadaab, put the number closer to 9,000.

Ifo camp in May 1992. Photo: The Guardian/P Moumtzis/UNHCR

Written by makanaka

June 11, 2011 at 19:53

North Africa to Lampedusa, the terrible voyage that Europe ignores

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'NATO: Bah! It's just African immigrants dying of hunger' Cartoon by Victor Nieto, Venezuela. Nieto's cartoons frequently appear in Aporrea and Rebelión among other sites. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi

“According to the refugees, when water ran out people drank sea water and their own urine. They ate toothpaste. One by one people started to die. After waiting a day or so, they decided they had to drop the bodies into the sea.”

That is the account of Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to a Geneva news briefing. In a UNHCR camp in Tunisia, agency workers interviewed three Ethiopian men who said they were among nine survivors from a boat that left Tripoli on March 25 carrying 72 people.

Their boat is the one that NATO warships ignored.

One of the Ethiopians interviewed said the boat ran out of fuel, water and food, then drifted for more than two weeks before reaching a beach back in Libya. Military vessels had twice passed the 12-meter-long boat, crowded to the point there was barely standing room, without stopping, he said. The first boat refused a request to board and the second just took photos, although he could not say where the vessels had come from.

Fleming said that the boat was among many believed to have left Libya without a captain, leaving the migrants to do the navigation themselves. “I have heard accounts that perhaps there has been a captain for the first 100 meters or so and then a small boat will take the captain back to shore. They provide the passengers with a compass and say ‘Lampedusa is in that direction. Best of luck’,” said Fleming, referring to the small southern Italian island where many refugees have headed.

One in 10 migrants fleeing conflict in Libya by sea is likely to drown or die from hunger and exhaustion in appalling conditions during the crossing, the UN refugee agency said Friday. Around 12,000 migrants have arrived at reception centers in Malta and Italy. An estimated 1,200 are missing and presumed dead, adding a further human tragedy to the thousands killed in three months of fighting to topple leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Written by makanaka

May 16, 2011 at 16:11

Deadly floods, torrential rain hammer Pakistan

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Children sit among the rubble of their house in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Children sit among the rubble of their house in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Torrential rain and floods in usually dry regions of South Asia are continuing to kill hundreds, maroon thousands and destroy the homes and livelihoods of many hundreds of thousands. The situation in northern Pakistan and adjoining Afghanistan is very serious.

The UN News wire has reported that with monsoon rains expected to continue pummeling Pakistan for several more weeks, the United Nations warned today that the country’s south could also be affected by deadly flooding, which has already affected millions of people. Martin Mogwanja, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, told reporters that the devastation wrought by the current flooding is on par with that caused by the earthquake that struck the country in 2005.

Damage Overview of Flood-Affected Towns In Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. This map presents the preliminary findings of a damage assessment over sixteen flood-affected towns and cities along the Kabul and Kalpani Rivers including the main city of Nowshera, Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. UNOSAT

Damage Overview of Flood-Affected Towns In Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. This map presents the preliminary findings of a damage assessment over sixteen flood-affected towns and cities along the Kabul and Kalpani Rivers including the main city of Nowshera, Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. UNOSAT

He said that the floods – the worst in Pakistan in living memory – have affected 4 million people so far, with at least 1.5 million people having lost their homes. Mr. Mogwanja said that 1,400 people have been killed so far, “but this number may rise as new bodies may be found.” The monsoon season, he pointed out, could last up to four more weeks, with the possibility that the flooding – currently concentrated in northern Pakistan – could move south towards the Indian Ocean, affecting millions more people. Already, the central areas of Sindh province in the south have felt the effects of flooding.

The search-and-rescue and evacuation phase has come to an end, with many people having been moved to safer areas by helicopters and boats. UN agencies have been rushing relief to the area since the early days of the disaster. The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided 500 metric tons of food, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has distributed enough clean drinking water for 700,000 people. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has supplied 11,000 tents and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has distributed dozens of cholera kits for health centres.

The Hindu of India has reported that the death toll in the Leh cloudburst has climbed to 130, with 600 more people feared washed away in the calamity that was followed by torrential rains and flash floods devastating this Himalayan town in the Ladakh region. Sources in Ladakh, of which Leh is the district headquarters, fear that the death toll could cross over 500 as several far flung villages were yet to be accessed by rescue teams in this high-altitude terrain. Ladakh is a high mountainous region in northern India, in the western Himalaya. A small village before Choglumsur, which bore the brunt of the incessant rains, was completely wiped out as rescue workers were looking for survivors in the mud slush and debris. Over 200 people were still reported to be missing from the village.

Updated Overview of Flood Waters in Punjab Province, Pakistan. This map presents the standing flood waters over the affected Provinces of Punjab, Pakistan following recent heavy monsoon rains. UNOSAT

Updated Overview of Flood Waters in Punjab Province, Pakistan. This map presents the standing flood waters over the affected Provinces of Punjab, Pakistan following recent heavy monsoon rains. UNOSAT

The United Nations health agency said today that it has begun sending medical supplies to aid thousands of people affected by recent flooding across Afghanistan, where the major health concerns right now are water contamination and the spread of waterborne diseases. The Afghan government estimates that the floods have left several thousand individuals homeless in northeast Kapisa, central Ghazni, Laghman, Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar, Khost and northern Parwan provinces, where at least 2,500 houses have been destroyed. An estimated 80 people have reportedly died in the floods, and much of the arable land, where crops were planted, has been inundated.

Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported that news coming in from many parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, especially Swat because of its mountainous terrain, describes people displaced by the floods being desperately short of food, medicines, drinking water and other supplies essential to their survival. There is talk of starvation with no food available and international relief agencies are also warning of outbreak of diseases in the relief camps-mainly because clean drinking water and sanitation facilities are in short supply. In other parts of the flood-stricken region there are accounts of disease breaking out. Things could become worse in the coming days if the relief effort is not quickly streamlined. In Swat, many of those hit have already withstood many months of conflict. This Reuters AlertNet news feature describes the situation.

Russia wildfiresThe unfolding tragedy in Pakistan and Afghanistan comes alongside extreme weather events in Moldova, China and Russia. In Moldova, authorities have been evacuating people and goods from the flood-hit zones and to carry out prevention works. Xinhua News reported that in China, more than 4 million people have been affected since the flood season began in June and some 700,000 people have been evacuated. Additionally, about 62,000 houses have collapsed and 193,000 others have been damaged, along with 1.2 million hectares of cropland having been inundated. In the hardest-hit areas, flash floods have cut roads, isolated villages, and disrupted communications and water supplies. In the industrial city of Tonghua, torrential rains have damaged water pipelines, leaving 300,000 people without tap water for two days. The Voice of Russia has reported that wildfires are still burning in a number of Russian regions, including Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Voronezh and Ryazan. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and the air is thick for smog. Dozens of people have been killed by fires.

[The maps from which these images have been posted are from UNOSAT, the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Applications Programme, implemented in co-operation with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).]