IDPs face uncertain future as plan to close city camp gets under way

Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living on the site of an annual trade fair in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, have vowed to stay put, despite a government directive to close the camp.

"I am not leaving this place if I don't have a secure place to relocate to," Catherine Simba, an IDP from the western Kenyan town of Kakamega, told IRIN on 22 January at Jamhuri Park, the temporary home for at least 3,000 people displaced by post-election violence in parts of the country.

Simba was reacting to a government directive to have the camp closed. District Commissioner Evans Ogwankwa visited the camp on 21 January and said the government's position was that the IDPs must leave.

"I'm not happy staying here, but I would also not want to go back to my looted and destroyed home near Kakamega town; I want to be relocated to a secure area," she said.

"How can you take us back to the lion's mouth, it will swallow us!" Simba exclaimed, alluding to the clashes that have rocked parts of the country since President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the 27 December 2007 presidential elections. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has disputed the outcome, claiming rigging denied him victory.

Officials of international and national humanitarian organisations helping the displaced have started the identification process of IDPs willing to return home or relocate to other parts of the country.

According to Rev John Shikuku, a coordinator of the IDP camp's secretariat manned by the National Alliance of Churches, only a few IDPs have expressed their willingness to leave the camp.

"Some say if they got help, they could go to their rural areas of origin; others want to go to parts of the city other than where they had rental homes previously," he said. "It is good that the Kenya Red Cross Society has pledged to give those returning home a month's food ration, but where are most of these people going? Their homes were looted or burnt."

Shikuku said the National Alliance of Churches would remain at the IDP camp until all displaced people had been relocated. He said a meeting of government representatives and those of the aid agencies involved in helping the IDPs at Jamhuri Park would take place on 23 January to fine-tune the relocation plans.

A Red Cross official said the first batch of IDPs was expected to leave the camp on 23 January.

"What we are doing is re-identifying the IDPs in terms of where they want to go in order to facilitate their transportation," the official, who requested anonymity, said.

Philip Mokua, a father of five, whose home and business in Kibera in Nairobi, reputed to be Africa's largest slum, was destroyed, told IRIN he wanted to be moved back to his hometown, Kisii, in western Kenya.

"All I need is a little help to enable me get all my five children back to school in the rural area while I plan how to restart my life. I lost everything in the violence," Mokua said. "I don't think I can return to Kibera now. What would I be going back to? I have nothing there and no one can guarantee me security if I was to go back."

Meantime, charitable organisations and individuals continue to provide food and non-food aid to thousands of residents of Kibera, which bore the brunt of the post-election violence in the city.

The aid distribution is taking place outside the Jamhuri IDP camp, with thousands of slum dwellers lining up to receive items such as maize meal, cooking oil, beans and blankets.

js/mw