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Kenya : Plight of Kisii Refugees Grim

ICC Note

“I haven’t eaten since yesterday. We gave the little food we received from well wishers to our children,”

By Kwamboka Oyaro

11 January 2008 Kenya (allAfrica.com)-A group of men who a couple of weeks ago were busy at work huddle together idle. They have grown tired of rehashing tales of their horrendous experiences at the hands of their hitherto neighbours and friends. Now they watch the entrance to the church here, in the hope that any visitor brings something to silence their rumbling stomachs.

“I haven’t eaten since yesterday. We gave the little food we received from well wishers to our children,” says a man in his mid-40s. The other men around him nod in agreement.

A woman cuddling a baby is unable to talk. Tears trickle down her cheeks. IPS learns that her husband and older children may have been killed in the violence.

About 2,000 men, women, and children have been camped at the Kisii Cathedral for more than a week. The cathedral is in Kisii town, in western Kenya , about 380 kilometres from the capital Nairobi .

The refugees at the cathedral escaped the violence that has rocked the country since the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced that Mwai Kibaki had won the Dec. 27 presidential elections.

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The people at the cathedral have nowhere else to call home. They sold their ancestral land in Kisii when they moved away — driven by overcrowding. Recent reports show that the population density is approaching 500 people per square kilometre.

In Kericho, some of the Kisii people were farmers, while others were employed as tea pickers.

“I was brought here just because I am a Kisii but I don’t know where to go,” a man at the cathedral told IPS. He explained that he was born in Kericho, married and raised his family there, and has nowhere else to call home. A forlorn look engulfed him as he watched his two children play not far away.

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Churches and local communities in Kisii have tried to assist the refugees but they can only do so much. The Catholic faithful contributed money and foodstuffs last week to help meet the displaced people’s basic needs. But this was a temporary measure, since the people here do not have much food at all during this time of the year.

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Visitors and the displaced blame the government for ignoring the plight of the refugees in Kisii town. The media seems to have ignored them as well.

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A woman at the cathedral camp mourned: “We shall starve to death at this camp, unless the government comes to our help. We played our role by voting, why are we being punished for a mistake we didn’t do? We did not steal votes and provide wrong tallies. We want to go back to our lives, where we were depending on ourselves, taking our children to school, and living in peace.”

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Ezekiel Mutua, Kenya ‘s director of information, told IPS that he would act immediately to ensure the people in Kisii get help.

“The government actually has surplus supplies to all these people. No one should starve or lack shelter. I will address the situation in one hour,” he said. This was one week ago.

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