UNHCR starts emergency airlift of tents to Kenya, Ethiopia

Family tents arriving in Nairobi on the first UNHCR airlift are being rushed to Dadaab refugee complex in eastern Kenya/Photo: UNHCR/R. Redmond
The first airlifts of UNHCR tents have arrived in Ethiopia and Kenya and are being rushed to the borders with Somalia to shelter thousands of emaciated Somali refugees fleeing conflict and drought.

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On Monday, the first Boeing 747 flight chartered by the UN refugee agency arrived in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with 2,100 tents from UNHCR’s warehouse in Dubai. Further flights will bring additional tents, as well as vehicles and generators for the operation in Dollo Ado in southern Ethiopia, where some 75,000 Somalis have sought refuge since the beginning of the year.

In neighbouring Kenya, the first airlift – also a Boeing 747 – landed in the capital Nairobi on Sunday, carrying 100 tonnes of tents from UNHCR’s stockpile in Kuwait. The 2,300 tents were loaded onto trucks and taken to the remote Dadaab refugee complex in eastern Kenya, where some 60,000 Somali refugees have arrived since January.

“Between Ethiopia and Kenya, we’re receiving about 3,000 new refugees a day,” said UNHCR spokesman in Nairobi, Ron Redmond. “Dadaab is absolutely packed, it’s now four times the capacity it was built for, with 1,500 more refugees coming every day.”

Many of the refugees arrive emaciated from the drought and insecurity in Somalia, and exhausted after walking for weeks to reach aid. They receive immediate treatment and assistance, but the fast pace of arrivals is outstripping the capacity of host countries already suffering from the region’s worst drought in 60 years.

Nonetheless, last week the Kenyan government announced that it would open a camp extension, Ifo II, to ease the congestion at Dadaab refugee complex. Authorities in Ethiopia are also setting up new camp, Hilowen, to host the newly-arriving Somali refugees.

In addition to the airlift of urgently-needed relief items, UNHCR is also deploying emergency staff for site planning, camp management, protection, community services and health. The agency has appealed for $136.3 million to meet the refugees’ life-saving needs in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya until the end of the year.