UGANDA: More refugees flee from neighbouring Kenya

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Kenyans fearing more political violence are continuing to seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda, according to aid workers.

"Since Saturday [12 January], we have noticed an increase in the number of people coming in and we have registered dozens every day at a time when the situation seemed to have normalised," Geoffrey Ebong, head of the UN World Food Programme's (WFP) sub-office for eastern Uganda, told IRIN at the Integrated Primary School in the border town of Busia. About 2,000 refugees are camped at the school.

"They [the refugees] tell us that [Kenyan] police had intimated that they would not be able to take them into police stations if demonstrations start, so they have decided to cross over," he said.

Ugandan government officials said more than 6,000 Kenyan refugees had entered the country since unrest broke out in late December following the declaration of disputed results in the presidential elections.

WFP on 15 January started distributing food to 2,000 refugees in Busia after initial rations provided by the Ugandan government ran out.

Robertta Russo, spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN the organisation would provide transport to move the refugees from the border to Mulanda, about 35km farther into Uganda, where authorities have provided a temporary site for camps.

Many of the refugees said they fled after being threatened because of their ethnicity.

Eunice Wangari, a 35-year-old mother of four and an ethnic Kikuyu, the community of President Mwai Kibaki, said she fled from Kenya's Busia district on 13 January after people she claimed were from the Luo ethnic group gathered and chanted anti-Kikuyu slogans. Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claimed to have been robbed of victory through poll rigging in favour of Kibaki, is a Luo.

"They passed by my house carrying stones and baying for Kikuyu blood so I felt unsafe and sneaked out at night," said Wangari.

James Maina, another refugee, said youths usually gathered in one place then fanned out into the villages shouting threats and identifying property for looting. "If they see that you are well off, they organise [themselves] and come and take all you have. They accused us of stealing their vote and told us to leave the area," he said.

"The landlord asked us to leave because they threatened to burn his houses for accommodating us," said Judith Murugi, 27. She said she had also received a threatening letter.

The refugees pleaded with political leaders to resolve their differences.

"I voted like any other person and now I am suffering. The vote was secret and maybe those I voted for are now the ones harassing me. We are all Kenyans and we should learn to live together. Politics should not divide us as we have lived together for years without any problem," said Wangari.

The Ugandan Red Cross Society has distributed blankets, jerry cans and mosquito nets to the refugees, according to Stephen Wamukota, field coordinator of the Busia branch.

In addition, Save the Children International issued a statement on 16 January saying that 32 volunteers had been identified in eastern Uganda for training in the protection of children in emergencies.

“The training of initial 16 [volunteers] has already started in Busia focusing on tracing, prevention of separation and identification, psycho-social support and referral for sexual and gender-based violence," the statement read.

The agency had also distributed 400 blankets for children under the age of five, as well as 487 mosquito nets and eight bales of used clothing for more than 1,200 children.

Save the Children was also planning to create safe play spaces and provide psycho-social counselling for children, some of whom were unaccompanied.

Source: IRIN