Somali insurgency driving thousands of refugees to Kenya
Islamist militias' clashes with Somalia's government has forced more than 25,000 to flee.
The pirates get the headlines, but what drove Habibo Kune and her teenage son out of Somalia and into this sprawling, sand-blown refugee camp was a different group of men with guns.Skip to next paragraph
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Islamist militants, who've waged a two-year, blood-soaked insurgency, continue to battle progovernment forces for territory throughout southern Somalia. Since January, a surge in violence has driven more than 25,000 people into the camps of eastern Kenya – already overflowing with two decades' worth of Somali refugees – which has badly strained one of the world's largest humanitarian operations.
In Hagadera, the largest of three camps, new arrivals like Ms. Kune are crowding with relatives in bare, tree-branch huts covered in plastic sheets or fraying strips of clothing. The refugees say that the insurgents – a wholly separate phenomenon from the secular, ransom-hungry pirates – have imposed religious law on their towns and killed civilians who resisted.
"The pirates cause problems in the ocean," said Kune, seated on the dirt floor of a hut, her round face creased with worry, "but the Islamists cause many more problems inside the country."
Relief agencies are concerned that antipiracy efforts are diverting attention and resources from the plight of these refugees and hundreds of thousands in even more desperate camps in Somalia. While countries pledged $213 million last month to beef up security forces in the East African nation, the United Nations' request for $918 million for relief programs is still two-thirds unmet.
A funding shortfall also forced the UN World Food Program to reduce rations in the camps – the refugees' only source of food – by 17 percent last month. After a $10 million internal loan, the agency expects to resume full food distribution within weeks.
"The world has shown it can act quickly and decisively when commercial interests are at stake," said Andrea Pattison, a spokeswoman for the Oxfam relief agency. "It's now time to show the same sense of urgency for alleviating the suffering of millions of people on land who remain in desperate need of help."
Sometimes it seems as if no amount of money could help Somalia right itself.
While there are no proven links between the southern-based Islamists and the secular, northern-based pirates, both phenomena are symptoms of the lawlessness and economic wreckage that have characterized the country since a 1991 coup felled its last functioning government.
Two decades of chaos have swelled the Kenyan camps into the world's largest refugee settlement, sheltering 271,000 people on sun-scorched land that was meant to hold only one-third that many.
Amid shortages of food, water, health supplies, and clean latrines, aid workers say that the refugees are increasingly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease. Cases of cholera surfaced in the camps earlier this year but the disease was contained.