Nairobi: More than eight out of 10 Somalis living in the world’s largest refugee camp, which Kenya plans to close by November, are unwilling to return home, fearing rape, forced recruitment into militias and lack of medical care, a charity said on Wednesday.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the return to Somalia of some 300,000 refugees living in Dadaab camp would be disastrous for their health, putting them at risk of malnutrition and infectious diseases like polio.
“Hundreds of thousands of lives will be put at risk,” MSF said in a report sent to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Extreme levels of insecurity and a dangerous absence of medical care mean that the conditions necessary for a safe and dignified return are simply not present in many parts of Somalia today.”
Kenya hosts the largest population of Somali refugees who have fled a 25-year-old civil war in the Horn of Africa country, according to the UN.
Kenya and the UN have said returns are being conducted on a voluntary basis, with refugees being taken to designated safe areas.
They have appealed to donors for funding to provide better health and education services in Somalia.
Kenya says it has to close Dadaab for its own security as the camp has been infiltrated by “terrorist cells” which have carried out deadly attacks on Kenyan soil.
Children arriving in Kenya from Somalia have never received routine childhood vaccinations, MSF said, and new arrivals often fall sick with measles.
Polio, which has almost been eradicated globally through vaccination, broke out in 2014 in Somalia, illustrating the weakness of its health services.
“I am afraid to go back because there is no life and no hope there,” one refugee cited in the report told MSF.
In Somalia, private clinics are prohibitively expensive and pharmacies often stock out of date and poor quality drugs, some of the 800 refugees living in Dadaab surveyed by MSF in July and August said.
In remote parts of the country, people have to rely on traditional herbs and healers, they said.
Three out of 10 of those surveyed by MSF have a household member who needs medical care for a chronic condition, such as asthma, diabetes or hypertension.
They will have little access to treatment in Somalia, MSF said, and tuberculosis patients whose medication is interrupted risk developing the drug-resistant form of the disease.
Two out of 10 of refugees surveyed have a household member who needs mental healthcare, which is much less readily available in Somalia, MSF said.
MSF called on Kenya, the UN and donors to consider other solutions, such as resettlement in third countries, integration into Kenyan society and the construction of smaller and more manageable camps.