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Kenya: over 7,000 Somali refugees make first contact with relatives left behind

20-09-2011 News Release 11/192

Nairobi/Geneva (ICRC) – Over 7,000 Somali refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, have been able to speak with their families by mobile phone thanks to a service set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Many of the thousands of refugees arriving in the Dadaab camps every week have lost touch with their relatives while fleeing the conflict and drought in Somalia.

"These men, women and children are exhausted when they finally make it to Dadaab," said Valérie Preisner, ICRC protection coordinator in Nairobi. "For most, letting their families know they have arrived safely is as important as finding food and water. Keeping in touch with their relatives gives them a bit of comfort in an extremely difficult situation."

The mobile-phone service was launched on 18 August and is jointly run with the Kenya Red Cross Society. Any refugee who has arrived in recent weeks is given the opportunity to make a phone call to an immediate family member or other close relative anywhere in the world. The calls last for two minutes and are limited to family and personal news only. So far 7,200 people, including almost 800 minors, have taken advantage of the service.

A team of ICRC staff and Kenya Red Cross volunteers is present in the Dadaab registration area, where the newly arrived refugees can easily approach them. Two other teams move around Dadaab every day, offering the phone service in different locations.

The ICRC runs a variety of projects in response to the current food crisis and the needs generated by the ongoing conflict in Somalia. It is one of the few humanitarian agencies able to work in the southern and central parts of the country.

For further information, please contact:
Anne Kilimo, ICRC Nairobi, tel. +254 722 202 039
Yves Van Loo, ICRC Somalia, tel: +254 736 084 015
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 22 71  or  +41 79 217 32 17