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Number of Kenyan refugees in Uganda rises to 12,000


Number of Kenyan refugees in Uganda rises to 12,000

A UNHCR emergency team deploys in south-east Uganda where the number of Kenyan refugees has risen to 12,000.
5 February 2008
Kenyan refugees in the Ugandan border town of Busia queue to board buses that will take them to Mulanda transit centre.

KAMPALA, Uganda, February 5 (UNHCR) - A UNHCR emergency response team has been deployed to south-east Uganda where the number of Kenyan refugees fleeing poll-related violence across the border has risen to 12,000.

The small refugee agency team will be based in the border town of Tororo. They will lead emergency response and coordination with the local and central authorities in the area. "We really hope that the situation will improve soon in Kenya and people will be able to choose if they want to return home or to settle in Uganda," said Yumiko Takashima, head of the emergency team.

UNHCR is registering new arrivals. According to the Ugandan authorities, there are presently some 6,500 Kenyans in Tororo, Manafwa and Busia districts in the south-east, and another 5,500 in Bukwa district, 180 kilometres north of Tororo town.

Late last week, a joint mission to Bukwa district found that most of the refugees there were from the Mt. Elgon and Eldoret areas in western Kenya. Most are being accommodated by local communities. They appear to be in good condition, but local resources to care for these people are running out.

The joint mission also looked into a possible relocation of the newly arrived Kenyan refugees to Mulanda transit centre, about 160 kilometres from Bukwa. Road conditions are extremely bad - taking almost four hours with a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

In addition, some Kenyan refugees in Bukwa expressed concern over the ethnic composition of the refugees already at Mulanda transit centre and indicated that they might not be prepared to relocate to there.

UNHCR plans to address these issues by providing more information to the refugees about conditions at Mulanda, but Ugandan government policy - supported by the refugee agency - is not to separate refugee communities along ethnic lines.

Since January 23, the UN refugee agency has moved 1,334 Kenyan refugees to Mulanda, mostly from Busia, Malaba and Lwakhakha villages on the border with Kenya. A UNHCR team is in Mulanda to provide a range of services for the refugee community there.

Over the weekend, the Ugandan Red Cross and UNHCR distributed rice, beans, posho (kind of local porridge), oil, maize, tins of beef and sugar. Today, the agency planned a distribution of second-hand clothes donated by NGOs and charities.

Lukas Kahuthia, a 38-year-old trader from Busia, said he fled to Uganda at the end of December, when the cycle of violence began after the elections. His wife and children remain behind in Kenya's central province. "As soon as the situation allows, I want to go to pick my family up and bring them to Uganda. I don't think that the hatred in Kenya will end soon and I want my family to be in a safe place," he said in Mulanda.

Kahuthia said he made a lot of money selling maize and beans, but his house had been torched and "now I have nothing left." He said that he wanted to settle in Uganda. "In Mulanda everything is okay; we are safe and we are taken care of. But it's not enough for me - I want to be able to work."

Meanwhile, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins on Tuesday met with Kenya's Minister for Special Programmes Naomi Shaban, who is overseeing the internal displacement operation in Kenya.

Cheng-Hopkins, during her meetings with senior officials, assured the Kenyan government of UNHCR's continued readiness to support efforts to help an estimated 300,000 internally displaced people. She welcomed the recent signing by UNHCR of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kenya Red Cross Society and called for the quick implementation of the agreement.

By Roberta Russo in Kampala, Uganda