Draft policy offers new hope for IDPs

Internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kenya are set to enjoy greater protection under a national policy that also aims to prevent future displacement and to fulfil the country's obligations under international IDP law, say analysts.

The draft policy, unveiled in Nairobi on 17 March, broadens the definition to cover displacement due to political and resource-based conflict and natural disasters, as well as development projects that force people from their homes without proper relocation.

The draft policy is a departure from the current approach where "IDP issues are dealt with [on an ad hoc basis], like disasters, without addressing the root causes", Simon Konzolo, a programme officer with Refugee Consortium of Kenya, told IRIN.

"If there is displacement, people should be protected, not have a situation where people are being pushed back to places they feel are still not safe. They will stay there for a short time, and run away again. They should be consulted," said Konzolo.

History and hate

The policy, which emphasizes the criminality of arbitrary displacement, also calls for laws to address historical injustices, such as the national land policy 2009. Land is often at the root of conflict and subsequent displacement.

According to experts, the IDP policy will allow for the review of existing laws to deal with impunity.

"This is by making sure [displacement] perpetrators are made to account... If you make hate statements that might pit this community against the other that action is taken immediately," said the deputy director of mitigation and resettlement in the Ministry of State for Special Programmes (MOSSP), Michael Musembei.

The policy also seeks durable solutions for IDPs. "If they were farmers, you assist them to go back to farming. It [the policy] is talking of giving them opportunities," said Musembei.

Joined-up legislation

According to Fatuma Ibrahim Ali, a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the response to the post-election IDP situation was fragmented. "There was a lot of corruption because of the loopholes, the sick in the fields were not accessing hospitals, and women had no reproductive health services," she said.

The draft policy, through its institutional framework, gives clear roles to stakeholders; it further proposes the creation of an IDP fund, which experts hope will increase accountability as there will be one kitty from which evolving IDP needs can promptly be met.

"The policy’s success will depend on its harmonization with other relevant legislation," said Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, an analyst with the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

"It cannot be used as a stand-alone document; it has to be harmonized with other legislation, such as government ratification of the AU [African Union] policy, to be effective. There is a need for the government to also put in place a new constitution without delay," Sheekh said.

A referendum on a new Kenyan constitution is scheduled for later this year.

The draft IDP policy, which will be presented before cabinet later this month, borrows heavily from the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa that obliges governments to recognize IDP vulnerabilities and need for support.

Still vulnerable

Two years after the post-election violence, tens of thousands of displaced Kenyans remain in squalid conditions in 19 integrated camps, according to MOSSP. The Mawingo camp in Nyahururu, Rift Valley Province, is the most congested with more than 3,000 households.

Former IDP households resettled on group land bought by pooling their compensation tokens of at least 10,000 shillings (about US$133) are not faring any better, according to Stephen Mbugua, an IDP leader from Maai Mahiu, in Rift Valley Province.

"The problems we have are the lack of health facilities... The other day a child died awaiting treatment. Mobile hospitals are needed," Mbugua, who is in charge of about 1,000 people settled on 14ha of land, told IRIN.

Mbugua is aware of the draft IDP policy and expressed cautious optimism. "If this policy passes [into law] it may lessen our problems. The government will have much better knowledge of how to assist us."