Kenyans worried at influx of Somali famine refugees
DADAAB, KENYA— As tens of thousands of refugees flee Somalia’s famine for Kenya’s arid east, residents say they are torn between welcoming their fellow ethnic Somalis - and feeling threatened as the new arrivals squeeze the area’s limited resources and compete for jobs.
Officials fear the new influx could force long-simmering tension in the region to boil over.
Police say they already have seen locals clash with refugees who have recently crossed the nearby border. That has prompted police to ask for hundreds more officers.
In recent weeks, some 1,500 refugees have arrived each day at the overcrowded Unrun refugee camps in Kenya’s east.
Northeastern Kenya has long been inhabited by ethnic Somalis, making it a destination for 400,000 Somali refugees, who are now in the world’s largest refugee camps of Dadaab.
The first influx started in 1991, when tens of thousands came as refugees after Somalia’s last central government collapsed.
Osman Bathe, a resident who has been elected to local office and hails from the region, said he is torn between his loyalties to his people, Kenyan Somalis, and sympathy for tens of thousands of famine-stricken Somalis.
“The old refugees have caused us a lot of trouble in terms of security and environment, yet we can’t rise up against the new arrivals because doing that will be inhuman,” he said.
“We share religion, language and culture. They’re our Somali brothers, and they’re fleeing from hunger and wars.”
Mr. Bathe said he has only eight camels and 10 sheep left because refugees have cut down trees and used nearby lands either for building shelters or grazing their own animals.
He said that in better days, before refugees came in 1991, he had 70 camels, 100 sheep and 55 cows.
Police say they have seen recent clashes between longtime residents and refugees because some locals are angered over the refugees’ presence.
“They are a group of locals who terrorize the refugees,” said Nelson Shilunji Taliti, the police commander in Dadaab.
“There is animosity between them. But it not serious because there is no fighting going on, but it is something that can explode in the near future.”
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