The number of people living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya has grown to nearly 300,000.
Dadaab, about 50 miles from the east African county’s border with Somalia is the biggest refugee complex in the world, according to the United Nations.
The 20 year old complex already suffers a shortage of schools, clinics and clean water.
Intense fighting in Somalia in recent months has sent new floods of Somali refugees, many of them women and children, across the border, which Kenya officially closed in 2007.
Every month, thousands fleeing the war in their lawless country, cross the border into Kenya after an often tough journey on foot. They now face alarming shortages of food, clean water and shelter. The camp at Dadaab is now so badly overcrowded it can’t let anymore families in, so hundreds of families are now living in makeshift shelters just outside it.
Last week, the United Nations accused Kenyan soldiers of forcing thousands of Somalis who had fled to Kenya back across the border.
The use of child soldiers has become a major aspect of Somalia’s conflict, and the country’s transitional government, which is supported by the United States, has a history of using children to fight. So do the Shabab, the militants who control most of Somalia. And so do Somalia’s notorious gangs of pirates.
“It has become widespread; children are commodities,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, United Nations special envoy on children and armed conflict. “They are fascinated by notions of heroic death and the mythology of war.”
Army recruitment is nothing new in Dadaab, where there are more than 100,000 school-age children. Human Rights Watch said young men and boys were lured with false promises of “exorbitant pay” and claims of United Nations support for the effort. They said the Shabab also tried to recruit among Somali refugees.
Very few of the refugees at Dadaab go back to Somalia. The United Nations says Dadaab has 6,000 third-generation refugees, grandchildren of the original arrivals.
The United Nations wants to expand the camps, but Somalia’s continued fighting has taken a toll on Kenya’s hospitality and the government has moved refugees from Dadaab in the past.
“The international community does not know how to deal with the refugee camps,” said Catherine Fitzgibbon of Save the Children. “Is it an emergency or is it permanent?”
Somalia’s new prime minister has just appointed 18 ministers to his cabinet. The central state has collapsed and the new cabinet must be tasked with putting it back together again.