No more delays or restrictions for Somalis needing aid and refuge

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© Serene Assir/MSFChildren arriving at one of five MSF-run health posts in Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya are weighed as one of the measures taken by the medical staff to check whether or not they are suffering from malnutrition. The medical teams also check the circumference of the children¿s upper arm, as well as their height, to check whether or not they need therapeutic feeding or, in the most severe of cases, hospitalization.

Nairobi – In light of the worsening nutritional crisis in Somalia, the international medical aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges all parties inside Somalia, neighbouring countries and the international community to significantly improve the assistance to the Somali population in the region and remove all hurdles that currently prevent the expansion of independent aid inside Somalia.

The current crisis is mostly affecting the Somali people. To assess the full needs of the population and to expand its emergency response in this complex environment, independent and immediate access inside Somalia is essential.

With limited assistance available in Somalia, thousands of Somalis arrive each week to various camp locations in the border areas of neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. MSF teams report extremely high malnutrition rates amongst new arrivals. One child out of three suffers from acute malnutrition. Together with their families they face many delays because of an official closed border policy, administrative hurdles at reception sites in the camps before having to compete for the limited aid available in overstretched, chaotic and overpopulated refugee camps such as Dadaab in Kenya and Dolo Ado in Ethiopia.

Throughout the affected region MSF is treating over 10,000 severely malnourished children in its feeding centres and clinics.

“Every affected person should receive aid, inside Somalia or when fleeing to neighbouring countries,” said Jean Clément Cabrol, Director of Operations of MSF. “Kenya and Ethiopia host the vast majority of Somali refugees and should prioritise the opening of new camps and improve the existing ones.

“But the international community has a shared responsibility to help Somalis seeking refuge by ensuring efficient registration, adequate food rations and shelter in existing and new camps. The current bureaucratic restrictions and obstacles are causing unnecessary delays and all measures should be taken to respond to the emergency.”

Weakened by 20 years of armed conflict, the condition of the Somali population is aggravated by failed harvests due to drought and by dying livestock and high food prices. Ongoing restrictions on the movement of international aid workers and on the supply lines of their organisations have further delayed and limited the aid available to the population.

“Our feeding centres operate beyond their original capacity and compared to last year receive weekly up to seven times more patients in certain locations,” said Arjan Hehenkamp, General Director of MSF. “We currently treat more than 3,000 malnourished children inside Somalia: some 600 under five years old in intensive therapeutic feeding centres and over 2,500 in ambulatory feeding centres. We urgently need to get more resources in to help all those new arrivals and increase our response in all affected regions.”

In various locations, such as in the Lower Juba valley, spontaneous camps are emerging populated by up to 5,000 people who have fled their villages and rural areas in search of food and help.

“Fighting in Somalia, restrictions on supply flights, international support staff as well as  administrative hurdles have all contributed to the current hardship faced by the Somali population today,” said Unni Karunakara, International President of MSF. “It is essential that both restrictions and obstacles to humanitarian aid be removed as the situation continues to worsen.”

MSF has worked continuously in Somalia since 1991 and currently provides free medical care in eight regions of southern Somalia. Over 1,400 Somali staff, supported by approximately 100 staff in Nairobi, provide free primary healthcare, malnutrition treatment, health care and support to displaced people, surgery, water and relief supply distributions in 9 locations in South-Central Somalia.

MSF does not accept any government funding for its projects in Somalia, all its funding comes from private donors.