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Plea yields tents for 700 families in overflowing Kenya refugee camp

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • The 700 families still face flooding peril from rain season
  • The largest refugee camp in the world can no longer accept families
  • About 3,000 people are living in "settlements" outside the camp

(CNN) -- An emergency plea from a humanitarian group working in the largest developing refugee camp in the world, in Dadaab, Kenya, has yielded a donation of enough tents to finally provide shelter to at least 700 families living in "unacceptable" conditions outside the camp compound, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said this week.

But those 3,000 people or so remain imperiled with the approaching rain because they have yet to be moved to higher ground with appropriate protection, a group official said Thursday. The families also began receiving fresh water from the CARE humanitarian group this week, said Joke Van Peteghem, the group's head of mission in Kenya.

The overflowing refugee camp -- accommodating almost 300,000 Somali refugees though it was built for only 90,000 -- is now seeing "spontaneous settlements" of at least 3,000 people living in makeshift shelter, the group said. Those 3,000 people couldn't find room in the three camps that make up the Dadaab compound, Van Peteghem said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres last week called upon the international aid community and Kenyan authorities to reach an agreement to provide assistance to the families as heavy rains the past two days have flooded the settlements.

"Hundreds of families have been living in makeshift shelters in a no-man's land over the past four months, waiting to be re-located to a proper camp," Van Peteghem said. "These refugees are in dire need of assistance given the hardships they have endured. With the onset of the rainy season, we must act now."

The dire conditions have long been documented by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which in May described services as "stretched to their limits" and unacceptable conditions that included a "growing risk of and vulnerability to disease."

"We are at a dead end," said Van Peteghem. "While we have distributed plastic sheeting to the new refugee families, it is far from enough, especially now that the rainy season has started."

Thousands of men, women and children flee by foot the war in Somalia each month, making a treacherous journey into Kenya, but they arrive to the refugee camps finding shortages of water, food, sanitation and shelter, Medecins Sans Frontieres officials said.

The camp complex is so overcrowded that it cannot accept hundreds of families, group officials said.