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Displaced Kenyans face uncertain future

08-01-2008 Feature

Thousands of displaced people are on the move in Kenya, leaving Nairobi and the surrounding region for centres further south and east. The Kenya Red Cross, with the support of the ICRC, is providing food and material support. Bernard Barrett reports.

   
  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/ke-e-00148    
 
  David and Connie Kibaara with two of their children and what remains of their possessions at the Kisumu airport.    
     
 
   
  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/ke-e-00149    
 
  Families who fled their homes pool their resources in a makeshift kitchen at a camp for displaced people in the town of Kakamega.    
     
 
   
  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/ke-e-00150    
 
  Living out of a Matatu at the Kakamega camp for displaced persons in western Kenya.    
      

" I have lived here for the past 27 years, " says David Kibaara. " My wife joined me 15 years ago and since then we have been building a life and a home here. Now our only possessions left are in these three plastic shopping bags. " David, his wife and two of their children are waiting at the Kisumu airport for a flight to take them out of the region after the violence that followed the December 27 elections in Kenya.

Three days after the worst of the rioting, the commercial centre of Kisumu is marked by broken glass, burnt out buildings and long lines of people outside the few stores that are still open. " It degenerated into a looting spree, " explains John of the Kisumu Branch of the Kenyan Red Cross. " Stores were attacked because of the merchandise they contained, and not just the ethnic origins of the owners. "

The Kenya Red Cross had counted over 350 people who had taken refuge during the first few days in three camps in Kisumu town. Many of those who fled their homes in Kisumu are business people, professionals and others who had established themselves in the area to work. Some hope to return at a later date, but others say they are leaving for good.

When security forces dismantled roadblocks erected by local gangs, more people came from outlying areas to the camps, while those with the means to leave by air or by road moved to other regions of the country.

In the town of Kakamega, north of Kisumu, over a thousand people are camped in an area around the police station. Trucks are parked nearby containing what they have salvaged of their possessions while other families are living out in their Matutus, the mini-busses used for public transportation in Kenya. A large number had left Kakamega earlier, and those remaining are hesitating because of fear of travelling or a reluctance to abandon what remains of their homes and property.

" Many displaced people are moving from several areas to larger centres further south and east, " explains Pascal Cuttat, the head of the ICRC Regional Delegation in Nairobi. " With the Kenya Red Cross, our people in the field are closely monitoring these shifts to determine what kind of assistance is required and where it should be delivered. "

The Kenya Red Cross with the support of the ICRC has already provided food in some areas such as Eldoret, Nakuru and the slums of Nairobi and more material is being delivered.

" We must also help reconnect families who have been separated, " says Cuttat, " and where there are large gatherings of the displaced, we will have to ensure proper water and sanitation facilities. Some will require basic household items such as blankets, mosquito nets and cooking pots. We are also ensuring medical facilities are adequately supplied. "

An ICRC surgical team has been placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Health and is currently working at the Eldoret hospital, performing operations and helping hospital officials organize to best respond to the crisis. 

" Even if all the present tension disappears, many people will need help for months to come, because their houses and possessions have been destroyed, or because they have decided to rebuild their lives in other regions, " concludes Cuttat.