Due to conflict and famine, over 235,000 refugees fled Somalia from January to June of this year alone. Over half have come to Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, which was already the largest in the world, situated in the arid northeast, about 80 kilometers from the Somali border.
There are now almost 500,000 refugees in Kenya -- that's more than the total population of Cleveland, Ohio. While the majority of refugees in Kenya are Somali, Congolese, Sudanese, Eritrean, or Ethiopian, others are also represented. While not a rich country, Kenya has generously hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees for many years -- including some families that have been in Dadaab for three generations. For this, the Kenyan government is to be commended.
Kenya recently demonstrated leadership in providing humanitarian assistance by allowing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian responders access to additional land in Dadaab to house newly arriving refugees -- this new area is called the Ifo extension. This is an important step. Many newly arrived refugees, due to camp congestion, have been staying on the outskirts of existing camps. These areas are difficult to police, and will be prone to flooding if rains fall in October. Kenyan borders have remained open even as the government and the people of Kenya are themselves struggling with the worst drought in 60 years. But the Kenyan government is not in this alone.
The U.S. government is the largest donor to the Horn of Africa this year to date (providing approximately $580 million): we are the largest funder of UNHCR, which protects and assists refugees; the World Food Program, which provides food to those in need; and non-governmental organizations, which are instrumental in providing health care, shelter, preventing and responding to gender based violence, and other specialized services.
The U.S government also supports the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which last week transported the first 200 or so refugees to the Ifo extension site of the Dadaab refugee camp. These refugees received shelter that meets minimum international standards, on land that will not flood. Thousands more are being voluntarily relocated, easing overcrowding in the Dadaab camp in the days and weeks to come.
This would not have happened without the cooperation of the Kenyan government. Hosting a refugee population this large has its challenges. However, Kenya can count on the commitment of the United States and our international and NGO partners to assist in their efforts to provide protection and assistance of refugees, as well as our assistance to drought-affected areas in Kenya. At the same time, the U.S. government remains committed to assisting vulnerable populations within Somalia and to seeking political solutions to Somalia's the decades-long conflict.
Learn more about the current crisis, including how you can help, here.
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