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Homeless in the homelands - the perils of IDP evacuation

Internally displaced people from Mathare slums take shelter at the Moi Air Force Grounds in Nairobi, Kenya, January 2008. Agencies and NGOs working in the country estimate that up to half a million people have been made homeless by the violence.
(Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

Thousands of people displaced (IDPs) by recent post-election violence in Kenya are being evacuated to areas which, although more conducive to their safety because of ethnic affinity, pose a risk of "destitution" because few IDPs have homes in the areas in question, the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF) has warned.

UNICEF communications officer for Kenya Pamela Sittoni said her agency was "concerned that these families will be destitute and without any help" once they arrive in towns such as Nakuru, where the threat of physical attack is thought to be much lower than in the areas further west from where they fled their homes.

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, mostly in the multi-ethnic Rift Valley Province, the worst-affected area. Communities perceived to have voted for President Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu, have been targetted for attacks by people thought to be supporters of Raila Odinga, who has challenged Kibaki's re-election on the grounds of alleged poll rigging of presidential elections held on the 27 December 2007.

"Our concern as UNICEF is that once these people are returned to those districts and the trouble within the areas where they are being evacuated from is deemed to be finished, then we will be told that things are back to normal, but we don't think things will be back to normal for these people who are being returned to districts where they do not actually live," said Sittoni.

"UNICEF is concerned that these families will be destitute and without any help," she added.

The UN has estimated that at least 250,000 people could be displaced by the violence.

Rift Valley Province is inhabited mainly by ethnic Kalenjin, but the Kikuyu form a significant minority of the province's residents and have borne the brunt of the violence both there and in other areas of western Kenya outside the city of Kisumu.

Displaced people wishing to leave the Rift Valley have been given military escorts out of the region to areas they perceive to be safer, on account of ethnic homogeneity.

Sittoni said UNICEF was also concerned that health facilities and schools could face staff shortages as a result of the displacement and evacuation of people from violence-hit areas.

Save the Children, meanwhile, said about half of those displaced, including those injured, were children.

"Thousands of children have been deeply emotionally affected by what they have experienced. The camps are full of children crying uncontrollably and their parents are themselves too traumatised to cope," said Jan Coffey, Save the Children's director for Kenya, said in a statement. "They will be scared, confused, vulnerable and, in many cases, sleeping rough without enough food or water."

A longer-term recovery strategy for the displaced would have to be found, especially for those who might choose not to return to their homes in the strife-torn areas, according to Sharad Shankardass, spokesman for UN-Habitat.

"That becomes a much more complicated issue and has to be done with the government - in terms of land restitution, property restitution, and working on some kind of strategy for making sure that people either get their homes and property back or, if they don't, some kind of accommodation," said Shankardass.

The UN World Food Programme reported that convoys of lorries carrying food aid for displaced people were on their way to western Kenya.

Twenty trucks loaded with 670 tonnes of food – enough to feed at least 70,000 people for two weeks – arrived in Nairobi from the port of Mombasa on 6 January. Nine of the trucks unloaded their food in Nairobi and the remaining 11 headed on to the town of Eldoret on 7 January. WFP was also taking food from Eldoret to Kisumu, where an eruption of post-election violence displaced thousands.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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