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Somali refugees pour into Kenya

DADAAB, Kenya (Reuters) - Thousands of Somali refugees fleeing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world are still flowing into Kenya despite the formal closure of their shared border, officials said on Wednesday.

Kenya closed the border to its northern neighbour in January 2007 to block fleeing fighters after Somali and Ethiopian government troops ousted Islamists who had ruled the capital Mogadishu and swathes of southern Somalia for six months.

At least a million people have been uprooted by fighting between Somali-Ethiopian forces and Islamist insurgents since.

“The border closure has not achieved what it was intended for. Last month, over 3,500 refugees came through the porous borders,” Kenyan Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang said.

Kajwang was speaking at the remote Dadaab camp in arid north Kenya during a visit by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, on World Refugee Day.

The U.N. says 4,000 Somalis a month are crossing the long border, swelling Dadaab’s total by 20,000 this year to 200,000.

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Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, said a political solution in lawless Somalia -- which he termed “one of the worst humanitarian crises” -- was the key to stemming the flow of refugees and easing congestion in the camps.

“Somalia is normally forgotten...I do not accept the idea that a country like that cannot organise itself,” he said.

“There is no solution for refugees without a political solution,” he added, walking past shacks built from sticks, tattered pieces of cloth and empty tins of cooking oil.

The Horn of African nation has undergone 14 attempts to install effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Guterres said UNHCR was looking into ways to ease congestion in the camp and lighten the burden on Kenyan host communities living in the area.

Although mainly populated by Somalis, the camp also hosts some from Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Most live in broken-down shacks, and depend on food aid. Many have lived in the camp for years, some were born there.

“We are starving here, we have no medicine and our children do not go to school,” said 75-year-old Harira Hassan, as she leaned on a stick for support.

“I live in a makeshift shack that has no roof during this cold and rainy season. We are suffering here.”

(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri; Writing by Wangui Kanina)

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