Kenya’s government stopped work to prepare the Ifo 2 camp because it claimed opening it would bring more refugees. There were also worries that locals were angry that Somalis were being put in permanent houses. Ifo 2, an extension to the existing Ifo camp, has more than 100 houses, three schools and a clinic and has been ready to house 40,000 refugees since last year.
Meanwhile as East Africa suffered its worst drought in 60 years, the Dadaab area in northeastern Kenya, where the camp stood empty found itself hosting about 400,000 Somali refugees. And with other refugee camps in the area overflowing, more than 50,000 people were forced to bed down outside the camps.
Yesterday, as the first Somali family yesterday was dropped off by bus at Ifo 2, the United Nations Refugee Agency agency (UNHCR) said it was a huge relief. They said that the delay in opening the camp was frustrating but acknowledged that such a large number of refugees would have a big impact on local people. “By the end of today, we will have moved around 3,000 people already,” said UNHCR’s Emmanuel Nyabera.“As an emergency measure, we are using tents,” said refugee comissioner Badu Katelo. “Later, maybe, we will replace the tents with housing structures.”
Kenya’s government opened a first Dadaab refugee camp, designed for 90,000 refugees, in 1991 as a temporary solution to the civil war across the border. But 20 years on, it hosts 440,000 refugees and there’s still no end in sight to the conflict.
When the famine was declared in Somalia earlier this month, Kenya came under global pressure to open Ifo 2 given that it has mud brick houses, latrines, water distribution points, health facilities and schools which were not being used.
A row erupted within the Kenyan government, with the immigration ministry backing the opening of the extension, while internal security officials opposed it. Mr Katelo said the issue has been resolved following Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s announcement on July 14th that Ifo 2 should be opened. “It was announced by the prime minister in public and that’s it. We immediately called UNHCR to move in and resettle people,” said Katelo. Mr Nyabera said refugees will start moving into the houses in Ifo 2 “in the next few days”. “For the permanent structures, we’re just finalising the whole construction and then we’ll start moving the most vulnerable people down there,” he said.