Q&A: How Not to Resettle IDPs

Posted on 23 July 2008. Filed under: Governance, Humanitarian, Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |

Interview with Prisca Kamungi, Director of the Internal Displacement Policy and Advocacy Centre

NAIROBI, Jul 22 (IPS) – Operation Rudi Nyumbani (Return Home, in Kiswahili), designed to help about 350,000 IDPs living in camps across the country go back to their homes and farms has achieved its primary objective, at least according to the Kenyan government. Officials claim that most of the camps are closed and only 30,000 are living in the few that remain, but these numbers are disputed by independent analysts.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said last week that the plan has graduated to its second phase, which he called “Operation Ujirani Mwema” (Good Neighbourliness). In this phase the displaced families and those who displaced them will learn how to accept each other and to coexist peacefully.

But does this official version reflect the situation on the ground? A report by the government-funded Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights found the plan to be hastily implemented and full of flaws. It also noted that most of the families returning home were in fact moved to satellite camps near their farms so that they were able to do farming, but could not live in their homes due to hostility from the local communities.

For the last few weeks, Prisca Kamungi (pictured), Director of the Nairobi-based Internal Displacement Policy and Advocacy Centre, has visited 30 old camps and satellite camps in some of the worst affected areas, in the Rift Valley and Eastern Province.

She told IPS reporter Najum Mushtaq what she saw in the camps, what she thinks of Operation Rudi Nyumbani and how internal displacement is linked to the larger Kenyan problems of poverty, slums and gender.

IPS: What is the current status of internally displaced persons? How many camps and IDPs have benefited from Operation Rudi Nyumbani?

Prisca Kamungi: All these statistics on IDPs and resettlement are not reliable. The government says only 30,000 people are left in 38 IDP camps; the Kenya Red Cross puts the figure at 68 camps, while OCHA’s latest estimates count about 56,000 people still living in IDP camps.

The statistics are not an indicator of the situation we saw on the ground. Each source gives a number according to its own criteria of who is an IDP and what constitutes a camp. For instance, the government has been doing a profiling exercise to resettle the IDPs. But it only recognises as ‘genuine’ IDPs those families and persons who own land.

If you don’t own land, then for the purposes of resettlement you are not an IDP. All the official assistance to returning IDPs had so far only been given to those with proof of land ownership or who can be identified as such by the area chief (an administrative official under district officer).

Most people still living in camps are landless people, businessmen and workers who have nowhere to go.

IPS: Is this a newly-defined criterion?

PK: No, the government is following the strategy employed by the 2004 Task Force on the IDPs from the 1992 and 1997 displacements.

The Task Force had recognised only land title deeds or letters of allotment as proof of being a genuine IDP. The rationale was to eliminate bogus claims of compensation. The same formula is being applied in this case.

This policy has been used this time also to determine who gets 10,000 to 25,000 Kenyan shillings (roughly $160 – $390) and other assistance under Operation Nyumbani. But I understand the government is discussing with the Chamber of Commerce some modalities of assisting business people.

IPS: What does this means then for the rest of the IDPs?

PK: The biggest problem is that this policy leaves out those displaced from and to urban areas altogether, business people and farmers who do not own land.

It leaves out women, many of whom do not own land.

The government as well as the aid agencies have been focusing largely on IDPs in the Rift Valley, Nyanza and Central Province. But the IDPs from the Eastern Province such as the Ichamus, in Mt. Elgon and those in urban areas like Nairobi have been forgotten.

The displaced include all sorts of other people: families that rent land for farming, squatters who were living and working on other people’s lands, small shopkeepers, and farm and factory workers. For example, the post-election violence in Nyanza province and its major city, Kisumu, was not about land and most of the people displaced from there were not land owners but workers and shopkeepers.

In addition, a large number of displaced people did not come to live in the camps but stayed either with family and friends or rented their own places after their forced eviction. They, too, need assistance but only a few of them have got registered with the government or the Red Cross.

So, while the government has indeed relocated thousands of IDPs to their original land, even if most of them are still living in satellite camps and amid inhospitable communities, the plan leaves out other major categories of IDPs. And then there are IDPs from previous conflicts or as a result of ongoing conflicts not directly related to the 2007 elections.

All of them are forgotten IDPs of Kenya who do not appear in the resettlement plans.

IPS: What do you think will be the consequences of this policy?

PK: Displacement generates a vicious cycle of poverty. The manner in which it is being handled now will aggravate Kenya’s crisis of poverty, especially in urban slums.

According to UN Habitat statistics, there was a huge increase in slums and slum population between 1992 and 1995. Before the 1992 conflict, in which almost as many people were displaced as in 2008, there were only two slums in Nairobi. Now, there are over a dozen of them.

The dispersal of the current lot of IDPs will raise poverty levels and thus create more slums. The same goes for other cities where the IDPs have been scattered. Even the recipients of compensation cannot build a house or restart a business with the money they’re given. But giving them more money will not solve the problem either because of diminished purchasing power and the multiple effects of the global food crisis.

A huge population has been pushed into the bracket of the poor — the less-than-a-dollar-a-day group — and many are likely to gravitate to urban slums.

IPS: Is there a pattern to the process of return? Who’s returning and who’s not?

PK: Other than the land-ownership factor, during our visit to several camps we found that many returning families are leaving their children behind in the camps, or in rented rooms, or with relatives. One reason is that there are schools near these camps and the children can continue studying.

But, as a result, families are getting dispersed and children become more vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation and abuse. This is a very serious situation and this phenomenon is widespread. As adult males leave their wives and children behind in order to go check on the security situation in return areas, or to register with the government for the Ksh 10,000 assistance, families are breaking up. In some towns, child-headed displaced families are increasing.

IPS: Has it also meant a greater burden on women and more families without a male provider?

PK: Yes. Displaced women, particularly in central Kenya and in parts of Nairobi, are the worst victims. Men leave the camps and start living in satellite camps or in their old homes but are not able to bring their families along. In some cases, children are distributed to other family members in safe areas.

The situation of women living in rented accommodation or with relatives who are tired of being nice and compassionate is very bad, and for those whose men have left them behind — it is terrible.

One of the unreported aspects of the violence is how many women in inter-ethnic marriages were asked by their men to leave and live with their own families. Marriages were broken because the wife belonged to the other rival tribe. These women are not accepted back by their own families also.

The women staying behind in the camps are not certain if or when their men would be back to take them along. The social disturbance caused by the violence and displacement has affected women and children most severely.

IPS: Are the peace initiatives working in communities to which the IDPs are returning?

PK: There are some success stories. But in most places like Burnt Forest and Eldoret the hostile attitude of the local communities has deterred the process of return.

The government-appointed district peace committees and committees of elders, which have existed for a long time, have had little impact in this situation. In Kenya, tribal and clan chiefs and elders are not as strong or influential as in some other parts of Africa such as West Africa.

The youth, who are the main perpetrators of the violence do not attend peace meetings or pay attention to elders. In these committees, the youth have little representation. In most cases, these peace initiatives are like preaching to the choir because the real agents of violence are not engaged in peace-building. Also, the peace processes should have been initiated before resettlement not afterwards.

Another drawback of these peace committees is that adequate information is not being provided to the displaced people. In one of the camps I visited, people were unaware that a meeting of the peace committee was going on in the police station nearby. The people for whom these committees are supposed to work are not informed or engaged in the process.

(END/2008)

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[…] This figure (down from an estimated 350,000 displaced persons at the height of the crisis) is at odds with the government’s claim that, two months after the government began its resettlement program, only 30,000 IDPs remain in […]


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