Post-election violence has decreased in several districts of western Kenya, but displaced civilians have continued to trek across the border to seek refuge in Ugandan border towns, officials said.
At least 100 Kenyans have crossed the border daily in the last few days, including 57 people from the Kikuyu community in Kisumu who were registered at St Jude reception centre in Malaba after being turned back from Jinja, over 100km further inland.
Tororo district commissioner Mpimbaza Hashaka told reporters over the weekend that an incident in which up to 30 people were reportedly forced into River Kipkaren in Rift Valley Province had triggered fresh movement towards the border.
A big group of civilians, he added, was moving from Bungoma towards the Ugandan border. Other sources said fresh arrivals had been reported in Busia and Lwakaka border posts, but on a smaller scale. At least 200 Kenyan students en route from Rwanda were also stranded in Kampala.
Malaba mayor Alfred Obore said the more than 2,000 displaced Kenyans registered with local authorities in his town had received some food aid from the Ugandan disaster preparedness ministry.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said 5,400 Kenyan civilians have so far crossed into Uganda since the controversial 27 December polls that were won by Mwai Kibaki but rejected by Raila Odinga, sparking off nationwide violence.
The most immediate needs of the displaced civilians, OCHA said, included food, nonfood items, shelter, cooking fuel, water and sanitation facilities.
A senior humanitarian official in the Ugandan capital Kampala expressed concerns over the likely long-term impact of the Kenyan post-election stalemate on relief operations both in the country and in the region.
"If the problems in Kenya continue, all UN operations in the region are likely to be affected," Alix Loriston, deputy country director for the UN World Food Programme warned.
"Uganda is a key transit route for all the supplies to refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] and to Southern Sudan," he said. "Since the elections in Kenya, nothing has been coming through from Mombasa. The violence has blocked all food aid supplies to Uganda, Southern Sudan and DRC."
The violence also continues to hurt Uganda’s economy with biting fuel shortages across the country, despite reports that 155 fuel trucks were being escorted from depots in Kenya to the landlocked country.
Over the weekend, Uganda’s Energy Minister Daudi Migereko threatened action against those who had raised fuel prices, but his remarks largely fell on deaf ears as the cost of fuel remained up to three times the official price at many filling stations.
According to government statistics, Uganda uses 1.2 million litres of diesel, 543,000 of petrol and 300,000 of jet fuel daily – of which 560,000 is used to generate much-needed electric power.
Underlining the gravity of the situation, Uganda’s Inspector General of Police Major General Kale Kayihura called a meeting with stranded truck drivers in Malaba on 6 January to urge them to resume plying the Nairobi-Kampala route.
"The situation has improved," he said. But the drivers said the situation was still tense, citing reports of continuing ambushes on vehicles and the fact that no traffic had crossed from Kenya to Uganda and the vice versa for days.
The situation has also triggered off a shortage of cheaper Kenyan consumer goods in Ugandan border towns. "All the basic essentials such as food, sugar and kerosene are costing more," Micheal Okeju, a resident of Busia said. "Even the bicycle rides across the border which used to cost 200 shillings have doubled."
At St Jude reception centre in Malaba, Uganda Red Cross officials continued registering arrivals as police officers watched. Some 1,142 Kenyans have been registered at the centre – one of the two in the town - so far.
Local officials said about 100 new arrivals were registered on 5 January while over 70 were registered on 6 January. "We expect more arrivals," they said.
According to the chairman of the Tororo District Disaster Committee, Felix Esoku, his committee may relocate the camp to more spacious grounds in Tororo, 12km away from the border, if the number of arrivals increases to at least 3,000.
Near the reception centre, two men pushed a cart carrying household belongings. “We came from Bungoma yesterday – there was a vehicle that brought us to the border,” one of the men said. "There are many others on the way – walking on foot."
The civilians at the centre said they were trying to cope, despite difficult circumstances. Sitting on a bench at St Jude primary school in Malaba, Lucy Wangari’s eyes filled with tears as she held her sickly 10-month-old baby.
"She was born with a hole in the heart and has been undergoing regular medical treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi," she said on 6 January. "She had an appointment with the doctor on 4 January, but there is no way we can reach the hospital from here."
Pleading for help, she added: "In the last two days, the baby has been in pain. The nurses here say the kind of medicine she was on is not available in the camp. Tell me, how can I get her specialised treatment?"
In the next classroom, Grace Waithera lay in the cramped room next to her new-born baby, Isaac. "He was born here at the centre three days ago," the boy’s father Danson Ng’ang’a said. "It was a normal delivery and he is doing okay - despite the circumstances."
Originally from Molo in Rift Valley Province, businessman Ng'ang'a had just set up base in Malaba, on the Kenyan side, when violence forced him to flee on 30 December.
"I fled Molo because of ethnic clashes, hoping to settle down here in Malaba," he told IRIN. "Now they have taken everything – 800,000 shillings worth of goods. I do not know where to start from again."
Watching the registration exercise, Peter Kihiko, who is originally from Koibatek in Baringo District, said the violence was a wake-up call. "If things improve, I will return home to Koibatek and do something there," he said. "I will not leave my home town to do business far away again."