Red tape adds to refugee woes in Dadaab

DADAAB, 26 July 2011 (IRIN) - After walking for days to escape drought and insecurity, often barefoot and with almost no food or water, Somali refugees who arrive at Dadaab camps in northern Kenya are met with delays and red tape.

Some wait up to two weeks to be registered as refugees, and longer to get food and shelter.

The sluggish pace of the registration process is partly because refugees may only register and receive ration cards at Ifo camp, at the centre of the three Dadaab camps set up to 10km apart.

Abdifatah Ahmed, chairman of the Dagahaley camp, told IRIN: "We request the [UN Refugee Agency] UNHCR to issue the ration cards in all the three camps as soon as possible to ease the pressure and immediately facilitate the distribution of food rations to the new arrivals."

The agency tries to register 1,000 refugees a day, out of the approximately 1,300 new arrivals, but they are limited by the number that Kenya's Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) is able to process.

"We are sort of at their mercy,” said a UNHCR employee who declined to be named. The official said the DRA was working to increase its capacity to process new arrivals.

At the start of registration, refugees are fingerprinted and photographed at Ifo camp to ensure they have not already been registered.

The UNHCR employee said many refugees tried to register more than once in an effort to get more food and assistance, but most were tripped up by a series of questions on family names and relationships.

Even after registering and receiving a ration card, some refugees wait for weeks to gain access to the food distribution that normally takes place twice a month as their data is transferred to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and CARE, the agencies facilitating the general food distribution.

To speed up the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the new arrivals, reception centres were established across the three camps on 6 June, where new arrivals can access dry food rations for two weeks. They also receive non-food items like kitchen utensils and plastic sheets, and medical screenings where the malnourished are referred to hospital for feeding and stabilization.

Refugees who arrived in the 1990s, backed by the escalating emergency response of humanitarian aid workers and other external supporters, are filling some of the gaps as well. Community leaders in Dadaab camps have facilitated massive contribution drives of non-food items, food rations and some money from as far away as Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and the coastal town of Mombasa, for the new arrivals.

But new refugees are hampered by poor access to information, such as where and when to look for general food distribution. Often, they do not know what to do if they lose their ration cards, or who to contact to report cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Many have no idea of the various services offered by the more than 20 aid agencies operating in the camps.