Israeli aid mission to Kenya helps Somali refugees

We focus on medicine, water assistance team leader tells 'Post' from Nairobi

kenya refugee 88 (photo credit: )
kenya refugee 88
(photo credit: )
A team of Israeli aid workers has been in Kenya this week to distribute humanitarian aid supplies and determine the needs on the ground ahead of future missions. The four-member team operates under the aegis of IsraAID, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, and its presence marks the first time Israelis have set foot in the area since the refugee crisis there began some 15 years ago. "We focused on a few areas in which we have a [knowledge] advantage: medicine, water and water-distribution technology, and community mobilization," explained team leader Dr. Ido Solt, reached by The Jerusalem Post in Nairobi on Thursday. The community mobilization included helping to create work in the camps, "to give them fishing rods and not just fish," Solt said. The team also delivered the first batch of $20,000 worth of children's clothing requested by the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The clothing will go to malnourished children in therapeutic feeding programs in the refugee camps of the Dadaab border region, according to team member and B'nai B'rith World Center Jerusalem director Alan Schneider. The mission is conducting a needs assessment not only for the estimated 170,000 refugees who have lived in the border camps for the last 15 years, but for the host communities as well, "whose water and land resources have been strained by the refugees' arrival," Schneider noted. "We got involved now because a few months ago there was major flooding that caused the evacuation of Ifo Camp," Schneider continued. "The UNHCR is now in the process of transferring 14,000 families to Ifo 2, an offshoot of the first camp on slightly higher ground," he said. The flooding across large sections of the Horn of Africa, combined with the recent upheavals in Somalia, with a civil war that brought a hard-line Islamic government to power, only to be expelled by an Ethiopian invasion of the country, have caused a renewed flow of refugees across the border. After the border was closed recently by the Kenyan government, an estimated 50,000 Somalis were left stranded on the Somali side waiting to flee to Kenya. The combination of war and natural disasters has created the highest number of refugees in a decade, and the Israeli team hopes to lend a hand to the overwhelmed international aid agencies in the area. But the Israeli aid presence in Africa has another purpose for those who planned, funded and participated in the mission. "Our motivation is to bring more Israeli nonprofits and individuals into the [field] of international humanitarian aid, to get Israel and Israelis to interact with the major players in humanitarian aid around the world, such as CARE here in the camps," said B'nai B'rith's Schneider. "We feel Israel has a lot to offer in that regard in various fields, water resources, medicine, agriculture, education, and it helps build relations between people and between countries," he added. For Col. (res.) Eran Lerman, Israel/Middle East director for the American Jewish Committee, which supports the mission along with B'nai B'rith and other organizations, the mission represents the idea that "the meaning of halutziyut [pioneering] for young Israelis in the 21st century will no longer be simply to drain the swamps or fight on the frontier, but can also include carrying the Israeli flag to places in which it can fly with those in need."