UNHCR staff stranded in Dadaab after 6-day standoff with locals

Thursday December 7 2017

Dadaab UNHCR headquarters

Dadaab residents protesting at the main gate of the UNHCR headquarters on November 30, 2017. International staff working for UNHCR are stranded in Dadaab as a standoff between the refugee agency and the host communities entered its sixth day Wednesday. PHOTO | ABDIMALIK HAJIR | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ABDIMALIK HAJIR
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International staff working for United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are stranded in Dadaab as a standoff between the refugee agency and the host communities entered its sixth day Wednesday.

Since the standoff started at the biggest refugee camp in Kenya, flights have remained suspended since locals have blocked the airstrip.

Consequently, about 20 international staff have been stranded at the UNHCR Dadaab headquarters.

Key operations such as distribution of food to camps, which was to start from December 1 to 8, have been delayed until security of workers is assured.

A source within the refugee agency said anxiety is high among the staff, with most of them unable to get out of the main office compound.

“Nothing is going on; even hygiene is a problem as the people supposed to clean the offices are nowhere to be found,” said the source who declined to be named since he is not authorised to speak to media.

The source said gunshots were heard near the compound, escalating fears and anxiety. But Dadaab Deputy County Commissioner Harun Kamau said the gunfire was not connected to the current stalemate.

BONFIRES

Last week, hundreds of locals vowed to continue with the protest until their demands are met.

They lit bonfires at the UNHCR’s main gate, blocking vehicles from going in and out.

The host community claims that refugees have depleted the environment due to charcoal burning, poaching and cutting down of trees, with no clear indication that UNHCR will step in.

Ms Nasibo Abdi Farah, one of the protesting residents, claimed UNHCR has also given notice of termination of employment to more than 100 local youth. She said this is unfair as the international staff earn huge salaries.

Locals are also complaining of slashing of funds to community-based groups such as Fafi Integrated Development Associations (FaiDA) and Relief, Reconstruction and Development Organisation (RRDO) based in Dadaab.

“We are meeting with representatives from both sides and are making good progress,” Commissioner Harun Kamau said Wednesday.