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Kenyan refugees fear going home

By Sarah Grainger
BBC News, Kiryandongo

Joseph Maina used to own a small shop in the Mount Elgon area of Kenya.

Joseph Maina
Joseph Maina is wary of returning to Kenya

Now he, his wife and two small boys are going to have to learn to work the land to survive in neighbouring Uganda.

Along with an estimated 12,000 others, the family fled Kenya in January when ethnic violence broke out after disputed presidential elections.

The two presidential candidates, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, have now formed a coalition government and are urging refugees and internally displaced people to come back home.

But there are many Kenyans in Uganda who are not convinced by that message.

Last week, a group of civil society organisations accused the new government in Kenya of rushing the return of tens of thousands of displaced people, without addressing underlying ethnic tensions.

More than 25 organisations said the resettlement operation must be handled with greater sensitivity, if Kenya was to achieve lasting peace.

They called for greater consultation with communities and compensation to help displaced people rebuild their homes.

"I wonít return home until Iím sure thereís peace, even if it takes years," says Mr Maina.

I wonít return home until Iím sure thereís peace
Joseph Maina

The memory of seeing his shop destroyed and of being chased away by his neighbours is still strong, five months later.

More than 2,000 Kenyan refugees in Uganda have now moved to a permanent camp more than eight hours' drive from the Kenyan border.

Administered by the United Nations refugee agency, Kiryandongo Refugee Camp was initially created to cater for Sudanese refugees, and at one time as many as 15,000 of them lived at the site.

But around half the Sudanese have gone home, and now Kenyans are moving into the abandoned tukuls (mud huts) they left behind.

Most of them have been moved from a transit camp at Mulanda near the Kenyan border.

"We are very excited by our plot," says Mr Maina's wife Winny. "What we have seen here is enough."

For many of these refugees, the decision to come to Kiryandongo was not an easy one.

Working the land

Each family has been given a 50m by 100m plot of land and is expected to become self-sufficient.

Kids on a UN truck at Kiryandongo Refugee Camp
More than 2,000 Kenyans have moved to the permanent camp

But many of those who fled Kenya have no experience of farming.

"I had a business," says Peter Karanja.

"I have never had a garden before so I am having to learn everything about cultivation."

Another young man, David, used to work importing and exporting goods across the border.

"I just donít know what I will do for work here," he says.

Despite the difficulties these families face at Kiryandongo, they find it better than going home.

"Things might be cool with the government," David says, "but they are not cool on the ground."

And another young man, Patrick, agrees: "In Kenya, your neighbour is your enemy. Itís not safe for me there."

Many of those who have moved to Kiryandongo are preparing to stay for a long time.

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