Refugees receive non-food items in Hagadera camp in Daadab
Emmanuel Nyabera  /  UNHCR via Reuters
Refugees receive non-food items in Hagadera camp, which hosts some 35,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia, in Daadab, 250 miles northeast of Kenya's capital Nairobi, on Sept. 25.
updated 10/6/2006 11:49:40 AM ET 2006-10-06T15:49:40

The number of Somalis fleeing fighting to seek refuge in Kenya has risen dramatically and could stretch the capacity of aid organizations to critical levels, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

In the past two days, at least 2,000 Somali refugees have arrived through two border crossings — at Liboi and Amuma — bringing the total number who have fled to Kenya this year to more than 30,000, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.

UNHCR said that if the rate of more than 1,000 arrivals a day continues, it would “severely strain” the organization’s resources at the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya.

Refugee camp ‘stretched’
The camp is home to about 157,000 people, most of whom have fled Somalia since the outbreak of a civil war there in 1991.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since that time, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

A transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order after years of lawlessness. But it has struggled to assert authority, while Islamic fighters seized the capital, Mogadishu, in June and now control much of the south.

U.N. officials said the refugee situation is dire.

“If we continue to have more than 1,000 people a day, then most of our staff would have to be deployed to the border. But we already have more than 150,000 people in the camps who need our help,” Millicent Mutuli, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Nairobi, told The Associated Press.

“Also, in terms of our budget and the logistics, we are very, very stretched. We don’t have enough trucks at the moment and the ones we are using are not reliable,” she said.

Somali battleground
The latest surge in refugees is likely the result of fighters allied to the Islamic Courts Union taking several towns in southern Somalia’s Juba Valley, displacing tens of thousands of people, according to UNHCR.

The Islamic group’s strict and often severe interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan’s Taliban, which was ousted by a U.S.-led campaign for harboring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida fighters.

The United States has accused Somalia’s Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden has said Somalia is a battleground in his war on the West.

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