Kenya: Nowhere To Go

Posted on 26 February 2008. Filed under: Governance, Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Grace Anyango and her daughter Ida fled to Kisumu, western Kenya, from Naivasha after Mungiki attacked

KISUMU, 25 February 2008 (IRIN) – More than 10,000 displaced people, who have moved to their “ancestral lands” in western Kenya to escape ethnic violence, face an uncertain future in what is, for many, a foreign country.

Some of these so-called returnees, mostly women and children, have never been to western Kenya before but they are being pressured to move out of temporary transit camps after just two or three days.

“There was a warm welcome on the first day. Over the following days they [staff at the camp] turned to enemies. They started telling me that I should go back home,” said 22-year-old Grace Anyango, who had been taken to Kisumu’s main transit camp, a building site belonging to St Stephen’s Cathedral, on 10 February.

“I come from Migori but there is nobody at home. Everybody has died there. They [camp staff] didn’t want to listen. I was told: ‘Just go or else we will take you in our vehicle and leave you at Migori and you can find your way.’ I was put outside together with my luggage,” she said.

Anyango was born in Tanzania to Luo parents from Kenya. They moved to Naivasha in Rift Valley Province when she was 16. After her parents died, she found work as a cleaner.

As Kenya’s post-election violence took an ethnic twist, the Mungiki, a Kikuyu militia, started attacking other ethnic communities in Naivasha. Anyango took her two-year-old daughter, Ida, to Naivasha prison for safety.

Security there was little better and Anyango was relieved when she was offered a seat on a bus, hired by the local Anglican church, taking displaced people to Kisumu, the capital of Luo-dominated Nyanza Province.

The St Stephen’s Cathedral transit camp was set up by locals in Kisumu who wanted to help internally displaced people (IDPs) arriving in the city. Some local residents spent millions of shillings of their own money transporting “returnees” to safety from IDP camps in Nairobi, Naivasha and Nakuru.

“All in all we require on average 200,000 shillings (US$2,850) cash per day. Most of it, to be honest, I pay myself,” said Yogesh Dawda, a Kisumu businessman who spent several hours each day at the camp.

The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) came in later to support the volunteers at St Stephen’s Cathedral and set up a transit camp in Moi Stadium.

According to KRCS figures, 8,155 IDPs had passed through St Stephen’s camp and 1,365 through Moi Stadium by 18 February. Thousands more were bussed directly to smaller towns in the region.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A displaced woman at St Steven’s Cathedral camp in Kisumu town

Government authorisation is required to set up a permanent IDP camp in Kenya. This has not been sought as the Kisumu transit camps are viewed as temporary.

“They are not allowed to stay here more than three days. Some are forced to board vehicles to where they think they come from. But in reality they don’t know anybody where they are going. They reach these places and they are stranded,” said Mary Odhiambo, a volunteer in the camp.

“People have gone and they come back. They say they have looked for their ancestral homes. They have not been able to trace them. The only option is to come back. When they come back they are also told to look for somewhere else.”

Moved on

Stella Atieno, 20, and her three-year-old son Eric, lived in Nairobi with Atieno’s parents. When the Mungiki started attacking Luos on their estate, Atieno and her parents found space on a bus taking displaced people to western Kenya.

“The bus was intercepted by a gang. They ordered everyone out and told them to put their identity cards in their mouths. They started cutting the men and raping the women and they burned the bus,” Atieno said.

In the melée, Atieno managed to escape with her child and ran into the bush. She assumed that her parents died. She begged a lorry driver to give her a ride to Kisumu and found St Stephen’s camp.

Atieno had heard her parents talking about Rangwe, the area they originally came from. She was taken there but could not trace any family members, so she was brought back to the camp.

Volunteers found the name of another relative in Atieno’s notebook but Atieno did not want to go: “This is a person who has mistreated me before. They are telling me to go. If I go, I will still end up coming back here.”

Several volunteers told IRIN they opposed the camp’s policy of moving people on to their ancestral homes.

“They have the right to do what they want. If somebody says I don’t want to go home, they have all the reasons why they don’t want to go home. This is an adult and she has the right to decide,” said James Riako, a volunteer counsellor with the Kenya Red Cross.

However, Gibson Sierra Okello, a volunteer working in the security team, which controlled who was allowed to stay in the camp, defended the policy.

“We believe people from this region must know where they are going to. At least they have their roots somewhere. Somebody must have his people. In the African context, a child is a child of the community. In the Luo context, somebody must have a place where he originates from. It is from that origin that we track them to their final places,” he said.

Rescued

Anyango and her daughter were luckier than Atieno. They were taken in by a Catholic nun, Sister Philemona, who ran an orphanage, St Theresa’s, in the city.

“When we reached there [St Stephen’s camp], their luggage had already been thrown out of the gate. Eleven children and four women were out on the street. One woman who was pregnant did not know what to do. She was just crying. I feared she could even miscarry because of the trauma she had undergone,” said Sister Philomena.

The nun made space for the women to sleep in a classroom in the orphans’ primary school. The children slept two in a bed in the crowded dormitory.

The women were keen to find work so that they could start to rebuild their lives.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Hundreds of people have been displaced in post-election violence

“I want to start a business if I can get small starting capital. I’d like to rent a house in Kisumu and take care of my child and start a life from there,” said Anyango.

Kisumu offers more economic opportunities for people who are used to living in an urban environment than the impoverished rural areas. In fact, many ‘returnees’ had moved to towns such as Naivasha and Nakuru to earn money to support their families back home.

Susan Adhiambo George, a 35-year-old widow with children of 12 and 14, had lived in Naivasha for 14 years. She worked in a beauty salon.

“The only relative I have [here] is my brother-in-law who is very young and I was the one assisting him,” she said.

She returned to the camp in the hope of being given some food. “I can’t survive on my own. I can sustain my family if I get assistance,” she said.

Desperate measures

“In the rural centres cash flow is limited and someone who has been conducting business in an urban centre will find it difficult,” said Joshua Osewe, a member of the Kisumu Response Team.

“If they can be funded to re-establish themselves in the line of business they understand well, they have a better chance. I think either the government has to come in or donor agencies to support that endeavour.”

Some women were so desperate they had left their children at another orphanage, St Francis in Nyamonge, 10km from Kisumu.

“Their fathers were killed in Naivasha. Their mothers said they could survive on their own but not with their children,” said Sister Fidelis.

“They said they’ll be happy their children are in a good place and they’ll visit them.”

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    A blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting POVERTY ALLEVIATION through creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals

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