NAIROBI, 27 October 2010 (IRIN) - At least 20,000 Somalis displaced by fighting from the border town of Bulo Hawo are facing an uncertain future in camps in the Kenyan town of Mandera, locals told IRIN on 27 October. "The entire town [Bulo Hawo] has almost been emptied by the fighting; most have fled to the interior, but at least 3,500 families [21,000 people] have crossed into Kenya," said Ahmed Mohamed Yusuf, an elder. He said most of those on the Kenyan side were in a makeshift camp at a place called Border Point One, east of Mandera town. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said most of the Somali refugees were either renting housing in Mandera or staying with relatives. "We are particularly concerned about the worsening health and security conditions of thousands of others who have been camping out in the open at Border Point One..." the agency said. UNHCR said the fighting in Bulo Hawo between government forces and the Al-Shabab Islamist group had driven at least 60,000 Somalis out of their homes in the past week. Yusuf said he was worried about the displaced who had fled to surrounding villages. "These are the most vulnerable," he said. "They have no help there and are unlikely to access aid agencies." Yusuf said he was getting reports that most of the displaced were staying in the open, with "absolutely no shelter. I don’t know how long they can last." Lul Abdullahi, a mother of five from Bulo Hawo, said: "I left because the shelling was too much; we sought refuge on the Kenyan side. Here we have no shelter. We are all camping under trees." She said the only help they had received so far was the provision of water by the UN.
Photo: Mohamed Garane/IRIN
The fighting in Bulo Hawo has driven at least 60,000 Somalis out of their homes in the past week (file photo)
A local journalist in Mandera, who requested anonymity, told IRIN those who were in Border Point One, less than 1km from the Somali border, had settled in an area prone to flash floods. With the expected onset of the deyr (short) rains, they face the threat of floods and disease.
"If the rains come, as is expected, they are in danger of floods and worse," the journalist said.
Another journalist who is still in Bulo Hawo said at least 80 percent of the town's population had fled. "There are very few people left; 90 percent of businesses are closed. All you see are armed men patrolling the area."According to UNHCR, Border Point One is 500m from the Kenya-Somalia border "and within range of fire if clashes resume in [Bulo] Hawo".With the Islamist Al-Shabab militia reportedly regrouping to try to retake the town, the agency urged the Kenyan authorities to "speed up relocation of new arrivals so that people can be moved away from the border and into a reception centre where UNHCR and its partners can attend to their protection and assistance needs".
Somalia has been embroiled in conflict for nearly 20 years since 1990, with more than 1.4 million displaced and 600,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. The UN estimates that more than two million Somalis need humanitarian assistance.
UN urges Kenya to move Somali refugees to safety