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Kenyan Rights Group Concerned With Resettlement of IDPs

A state-funded human rights group in Kenya has raised concerns with the government's efforts to resettle hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence following December's disputed presidential elections. As Derek Kilner reports for VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the Kenyan government launched Operation Return Home in early May, but many of those displaced have been unable or unwilling to return to their homes.

About 350,000 Kenyans fled to camps in the aftermath of the elections, with nearly as many leaving their homes to stay with friends or family. The government says the majority have returned home since the resettlement program began.

But most of the farmers who have been transferred from large camps, have been installed in smaller "satellite camps" closer to their land, where families can work on the farm in the day, and return to the camp in the evening.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says, according to rough estimates from its field visits, only about 40,000 people have returned to their homes.

Part of the reason these families have not moved back to their homes is that the government has not provided enough support for families to rebuild their houses, many of which were burned down.

Perhaps more importantly, says commissioner Futuma Ibrahim, the government has done too little to address the tensions over land ownership that prompted much of the violence between ethnic groups.

"There is still serious hostility between the resettled IDPs and the host communities because the ground was not well prepared to allow smooth resettlement," said Ibrahim. "It appears the government has not seriously thought out the need for peace building."

The concern was illustrated last week when more than 40 people who had recently returned to their homes from the main camp in Eldoret, were again chased off their land.

The group praised government efforts to increase the presence of police in the areas to which internally displaced people are returning, but warned there are still substantial security concerns.

Additionally, the commission says that moving people from large, centrally located camps to smaller, dispersed settlements has made it more difficult for non-governmental organizations to provide humanitarian support, and many of the new camps lack adequate supplies of water, toilets, and other services.

Despite some reports of security forces coercing people into leaving camps, the group says most who have left the main camps have done so voluntarily. But they were not always given a proper understanding of what conditions would be like in the areas they returned to, and have had very little participation in organizing the resettlement efforts.

Ibrahim says many of those staying at the main camps have been overlooked by the government program.

"It seems that the government in their resettlement package did not seriously consider the needs of the business people who were in the IDP camps," said Ibrahim. "And the people who were remaining in the IDP camps, who were not resettled, who do not have anywhere to go, are largely the business people or traders or business owners who lost their property."

According to the commission, the government has violated a number of the U.N. guiding principles on the resettlement of displaced persons.