News24

Aid work curtailed at Kenyan camp

2011-10-14 15:30

Nairobi - The UN has temporarily suspended all non-lifesaving aid operations in the world's biggest refugee camp following the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers near the Kenya-Somalia border, a spokesperson said on Friday.

Hundreds of staff have been confined to their offices, forcing the cancellation of services like education, counselling and relocation of families until further notice.

"Only water, food and health services are being maintained," said the UN refugee agency spokesperson Needa Jehu-Hoyah. "This will of course have an impact on the poor refugees."

In recent months, tens of thousands of refugees fleeing a spreading famine in southern Somalia have swollen the severely overcrowded camp. Most of the nearly half-million people in Dadaab, a sprawling, dusty wasteland about 80km from the Somalia-Kenya border, are refugees from Somalia's 20-year-old civil war but

The two Spanish women were working for Doctors Without Borders when gunmen seized them on Thursday after shooting and injuring their driver. Kenyan police said they were pursing the kidnappers toward the Somali border on Thursday.

Jehu-Hoyah said the ban on nonessential movement for the UN staff and their partners from aid groups would remain in place until further notice but that the UN was working closely with the Kenyan government to improve security. She said more police have been deployed and extra checkpoints set up.

Security has long been a concern at Dadaab, where representatives from various factions seek to recruit disaffected young male refugees as fighters. Aid workers live in guarded compounds surrounded by high barbed-wire walls, and the UN requires its staff to travel in the camps with armed escorts.

Foreign aid workers

Thursday's kidnapping has the potential to severely affect services for a long time to come.

The suspension does not just affect the UN.

Most of CARE's 250 staffers in Dadaab are confined to the compound, said Juliett Otieno, a spokesperson  for the relief agency.

"The only ones going out are those who perform lifesaving services," she said. "We don't know how long it will last."

The kidnapping is believed to be the first such seizure of foreign aid workers from the camp, although Somalis have kidnapped two other Europeans from Kenya in the past six weeks. The border between Kenya and Somalia is long and porous and both refugees and militants can cross with ease.

On October 01, Somali gunmen took a wheelchair-bound French woman from her home near the resort town of Lamu. Somalis also abducted a British woman from a Kenyan coastal resort in September. Her husband was killed in the attack.

Most of lawless Somalia has been carved up between warlords, pirates and Islamist insurgents battling a weak UN-backed government. Western hostages can fetch high ransoms and can spend more than a year in captivity.