Oxfam: Refugees suffer in camps

2009-09-03 18:04

Nairobi - Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees are jammed into camps that are "barely fit for humans", with poor sanitation and little access to water and medicine, an international aid agency said on Thursday.

British aid agency Oxfam said the camps in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are overcrowded and badly managed.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, which is involved with various other organisations in running the camps and providing food and shelter, has been "weak and inefficient" in addressing the crisis, said Robert Van den Berg, Oxfam's spokesperson for the Horn of Africa.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy for almost two decades. More than half of the population - 3.8 million people - needs humanitarian aid, according to the UN.

'Barely fit for humans'

"Somalis flee one of the world's most brutal conflicts and a desperate drought, only to end up in unimaginable conditions in camps that are barely fit for humans," Van den Berg said.

A spokesperson for UNHCR in Kenya, Emmanuel Nyabera, acknowledged the camps are overcrowded and said officials are trying to alleviate the problem in Kenya, where the biggest camp is located, by moving some refugees to another camp in Kenya called Kakuma.

The Dadaab complex in Kenya - the largest refugee camp in the world - is home to more than 280 000 people in an area meant to hold 90 000.

Daniel Dickinson, spokesperson for the European Commission's humanitarian aid department, one of the main funders of Dadaab, said the agency has committed $15m this year for the camp.

"The European Commission is not turning a blind eye to this. We're aware of the seriousness of the situation and have committed substantial funds to Dadaab in particular this year," he said.

Oxfam said that, in the Somali town of Afgoye, near the bullet-scarred capital, 485 000 people are taking shelter on a 15km strip of land, and Ethiopia's Bokolmayo camp is holding almost 10 000 people.

Various Islamist groups have been fighting the UN-backed government since being chased from power two and a half years ago.

The US government recently increased aid to Somalia by pouring resources into the weak government.