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Resettlement of Kenya's Displaced Strains Families, Society


The violence following the disputed elections in Kenya killed more than 1,000 people and displaced an estimated 600,000 more. Many of the displaced have been taken in by their extended families but thousands continue to live in camps awaiting resettlement and some of them have nowhere to go. VOA's Scott Bobb visited such a camp in Kisumu, western Kenya, and has this report.

On a hot afternoon inside a sprawling compound on the edge of Kisumu, children play under a large tent sheltering rows of cots covered by mosquito nets. Meanwhile, adults chat on plastic chairs under a nearby canopy.

The Milimani camp was set up on the grounds of a local church group after the post-election violence erupted in Kenya. It has been a temporary home over the past six weeks to some 9,000 displaced people.

Camp director Joshua Osewe of the local Maseno South Evangelical Church Diocese explains that the camp is a transition point for people who are returning to their ancestral homes after being driven from their communities mostly in central Kenya.

"These people are confused. They are desperate and they need a lot of counseling sessions. [For] These people there was that trauma [due to] the experiences they had," said Osewe.

Stories swirl through the camp of atrocities suffered by the latest arrivals. Osewe describes how one woman arrived in camp carrying the head of her husband in a sack. Others saw loved ones cut into pieces by machete wielding mobs or burned inside their houses.

The people in this camp are originally from western Kenya and mostly of the Luo ethnic group which largely supported opposition leader and favorite son Raila Odinga. They were driven here in late January by violence that was in reaction to attacks in western Kenya against Kikuyu who largely supported President Mwai Kibaki.

Nicholas Ochieng, in his mid-30s, sits despondently on a plastic chair away from the main group. He fled his home in Nakuru, central Kenya, after his wife and two children were burned to death and all his belongings destroyed. Penniless and alone, he has been in Milimani camp for two weeks.

"Now since I came here at least I'm feeling relieved because I am in my home. There is nobody harassing me. I have some people coming here for counseling and when I have a problem I approach them and tell them what I need. They are helping me," he said.

But Ochieng moved away from here as a young man. His parents and grandparents died and the family property was sold. He has no where to go.

At first Ochieng says he was very angry but now he is trying to accept what happened.

"I'm trying to get it out of my mind. Something like revenging or something like grudge, it's out of my mind because even if I think about that it will disturb me so I have to forget everything," he added.

James Dera leads a team of 40 volunteer counselors at the camp. He says the counselors greet new arrivals as they get off the buses and trucks. He says most of them quickly begin sharing their experiences.

"They are very fearful. They are harboring anger. They are harboring rage, big revenge aspects. They are really depressed. They are really traumatized. [But] Some [others] saw this for their first time. They have nothing to share. They are very quiet," said Dera.

The counselors first talk to the new arrivals in groups. They identify those who need individual counseling and those who need more intensive, hospital care.

Dera calls his work psychological first-aid. He says these people will need help for a long time. He hopes funding can be found to allow the counselors to visit the new arrivals in their new homes and help them re-integrate into communities which many of them have never known.

Camp Coordinator Osewe says many of these people left the region decades ago. He says the sheer numbers of those returning will strain every aspect of society here.

"The economy of this area will obviously be affected. The school system will be affected. We do not have enough facilities in the schools that we have," he said. "There is concern for health facilities which may not be adequate."

He says the communities will strive to accommodate their newly arrived relatives because that is the tradition. But the government and civic groups will have to support the transition or else another potentially volatile group of disgruntled and dispossessed individuals will emerge.

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