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Dadaab: Humanitarian aid must be prioritised, despite return of refugees to Somalia
As plans progress for the voluntary return of hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees from Kenya to their home country, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has once again urged that this process is not carried out at the cost of the aid already being provided to people who remain in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps.
With many organisations suffering funding cuts in the camps, and alongside a deteriorating security situation, MSF is urging international donors to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance, and calling upon the Government of Kenya to improve protection of refugees.
Dadaab refugees: An uncertain tomorrow
MSF has today issued a briefing paper further outlining the ongoing inadequate and insecure conditions in Dagahaley, one of the five camps that comprise the Dadaab refugee camp complex in northeastern Kenya. "Dadaab refugees: An uncertain tomorrow" also details results of an assessment carried out last year by MSF in Dagahaley.
“Results of our assessment demonstrate woefully inadequate conditions in Dagahaley,” said Charles Gaudry, Head of Mission for MSF in Kenya.
“For example, 41 percent of refugees questioned say their shelters do not provide sufficient protection from rain, and around one in ten refugees have no access to latrines.”
Data from this year still depicts a grave situation. In January, MSF treated 2,346 watery diarrhoea cases - over 900 cases more than the previous year during the same period.
“This represents a 39 percent increase, and illustrates the pressing priority for improvements to be made to camp hygiene and shelter,” continued Charles. “The current living conditions for refugees are simply unacceptable.”
In the assessment, refugees were also questioned about their willingness to return to Somalia. Despite the conditions in Dagahaley, four out of five refugees said they would not consider a return to their home country.
A malnourished child waits with her father to be relocated from the outskirts of Dagahaley camp © Lynsey Addario/VII
Access to food
Malnutrition continues to seriously hamper the health of Dagahaley’s population. Although currently not at an emergency level, ongoing surveillance activities reveal the existence of a large cohort of malnourished children with an average of 175 new admissions per month in MSF’s outpatient therapeutic feeding program.
Each month, approximately 49 malnourished children with medical complications are admitted to the MSF hospital.
“With such poor conditions in the camp, MSF medical teams remain on alert for any deterioration in the nutrition situation,” says Charles.
“Reduction in funding for aid agencies is a major concern. The World Food Programme for example, had to reduce food rations by 20 percent in November and December 2013 in Dadaab. If similar cuts were to happen again, this could have serious consequences for the health and nutrition status of refugees.”
Call to action
In light of the current situation, and despite plans for the return of refugees to Somalia, MSF strongly urges all stakeholders, and international donors in particular, to ensure adequate funding for providing continued assistance and security in the camps in Kenya.
MSF also calls on the Government of Kenya to ensure that refugees are protected and that security is improved in the camps, in order that aid agencies are not prevented from providing assistance. At the same time, the organisation stresses that efforts by the Kenyan government and the UNHCR to improve dignity and safety of refugees during the return process must be maintained.
MSF in Dadaab
MSF has been working in Dadaab for the past 20 years and is currently the only provider of medical care in Dagahaley camp. Each month, MSF teams carry out around 18,000 outpatient medical consultations and admit over 450 patients from the refugee and host communities to Dagahaley hospital.
 On 10 November 2013, the Kenyan and Somali governments and the UNHCR signed a Tripartite Agreement, outlining the practical and legal procedures for the voluntary return of the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Kenya to Somalia. Content of the agreement is available on the UNHCR website.