Kenya is blocking attempts by aid agencies to move thousands of Somalis fleeing fighting to refugee camps in the northeast of east Africa’s biggest economy, officials said.
David Ole Serian, provincial commissioner for Kenya’s North Eastern province, told Reuters on Saturday the requests by aid agencies were not justified and that refugee camps in Kenya were already too congested with Somali refugees.
“I visited the displaced Somalis at Border Point One yesterday. They never requested to be moved away, or expressed any fear of being attacked. They all expressed the wish of going back to their country the moment the situation stabilises,” he said.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday it had registered 7,100 Somalis squatting at the site and more were waiting to be processed, Reuters reports.
UNHCR said it had identified another site some 11 km (7 miles) from the border for the refugees but was still awaiting approval from Kenyan authorities to move the Somalis. Aid agency sources confirmed the planned move had been blocked by regional Kenyan officials.
Many more Somalis have crossed into Kenya at the border town of Mandera but are either staying with relatives or have rented accommodation to escape the violence in Somalia.
Fighting in the Somali town of Beledhawo near Mandera between al Shabaab rebels and Somali troops has displaced up to 30,000 people still inside the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, according to UNHCR. Somali soldiers and allied militia seized Beledhawo earlier this month, killing at least 27 fighters from the al-Qaeda linked al Shabaab group, but the rebels took the town back at the end of last week.
Serian said Kenya should not be pressed or persuaded to take in foreigners, some of whom were a potential threat to the country’s security, every time there was violence in Somalia.
Kenya already hosts more than 280,000 Somali refugees at the Dadaab refugee camp 90 km from the Somali border and there are concerns that both rebels and pro-government militias are recruiting fighters there.
Security agents and intelligence officers in Kenya are also monitoring dozens of individuals suspected of being al Shabaab militants who have sneaked across the border disguised as civilians, according to Kenyan officials.
Assistant commissioner of police in the region, Marcus Ochola, told Reuters an al Shabaab insurgent was arrested last week in the northern town of Isiolo and transferred to the capital Nairobi for interrogation.
Al Shabaab has repeatedly threatened to attack Kenya in retaliation for its support of the Somali government and there have been a number of skirmishes along the frontier in recent months between Kenyan soldiers and Somali insurgents. Thousands of Somali troops have been trained in Kenya and military sources say will be moved to the border with a view to taking on al Shabaab fighters in Somalia.
A Kenyan military officer involved in the training, who declined to be named, said the army deployed heavy weapons last weekend to key points on the frontier to provide backing for the Somali troops when they cross over to fight.