NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Ethiopia is opening a sixth camp to host Somali refugees in Dollo Ado, which has become the world’s second largest refugee complex since Kenya suspended refugee registration amid rising insecurity.
Ethiopia is now the main destination for Somali refugees in the region, hosting 214,000 people in the Dollo Ado and Jijiga camps near its arid southeastern border.
Despite the opening of a fifth camp less than a year ago, the Dollo Ado complex is full once again. Its population passed the 170,000 mark earlier this month.
"Dollo Ado is now the world's biggest refugee camp after Dadaab in Kenya," United Nations refugee agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in a statement, appealing for funds to set up the sixth camp, which will cost $5 million.
Somalia’s 21-year-old civil war has displaced one-third of its 7.5 million people.
Kenya has traditionally been their main destination, and now hosts more than 530,000 Somali refugees, the majority in Dadaab complex near its northeastern border.
Kenya suspended the registration of new refugee arrivals at Dadaab in mid-October 2011, after famine in Somalia pushed its population up to 450,000, from 300,000 in January. This was to send out a clear message that the camp was full and it would not accept any more arrivals.
This year, Kenya has registered only 13,000 new arrivals, compared with Ethiopia’s 25,000.
“The fact that newly arrived refugees are not being registered is simply not acceptable, and it is a clear violation of refugee conventions and international treaties,” Bruno Jochum, general director of the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said earlier this month.
Kenya has been reluctant to open new camps to reduce congestion in Dadaab, which was built 20 years ago to house a population one fifth its current size, fearing that this would encourage yet more arrivals. In addition to refugees, weapons and militants often cross the poorly policed border from Somalia into Kenya undetected.
Sections of the government have talked about sending the refugees back into southern Somalia, which is under the control of Kenyan troops. Kenya deployed troops inside Somalia last October, blaming militants for a series of attacks on Kenyan soil, including the kidnapping of aid workers from Dadaab.
However, the government did allow some refugees who had arrived and entered the camp since late 2011 to be registered in July 2012 so that it could ensure they were genuine and provide them with assistance.
Aid agencies have reduced their presence in Dadaab, particularly of international staff, because of a series of kidnappings and explosions. In June, four foreign aid workers were kidnapped inside the camp.
Earlier this month, a Kenyan government official ordered all Somali refugees living in the region around Dadaab to move into the camp or face forced relocation following the killing of several refugees and police officers in separate security incidents.
Funding for Dadaab has fallen by more than 40 per cent since last year, MSF said, even though the refugee population continues to grow.
“It is only a matter of time before a new major humanitarian crisis hits the camps again,” it said.