An estimated 300,000 people were forced to leave their homes and stay with family and friends or in camps after disputed presidential elections in December sparked party- and ethnic-related violence.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga arrived at a power-sharing agreement in February, and since then, the government has made returning displaced Kenyans to their homes a top priority.
On May 5, the government launched Operation Rudi Nyumbani (Return Home) to help shuttle thousands of men, women and children back to their homes.
But the program has had mixed results and reactions, as authorities announced the closing of camps, and residents decried inadequate services and lingering hostilities upon their return.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said only about 40,000 people have returned to their homes, according to rough estimates from field visits, reported the Voice of America.
Part of the reason is the government has not provided enough support for families to rebuild their homes, many of which were burned down during the violence.
But more importantly, said Commissioner Futuma Ibrahim, the government has done too little to address tensions over land and ethnic differences that prompted the violence in the first place, Voice of America reported.
Most farmers have been moved from large camps to smaller “satellite camps” closer to their land. But Ibrahim said, “There is still serious hostility between the resettled IDPs (internally displaced people) and the host communities because the ground was not well prepared to allow smooth resettlement.”
About 40 people who had recently returned to their homes from the main camp in Eldoret were chased off their land, cited the Voice of America.
Many are reluctant to return home because of the fear of violence. Samuel Karanja, a former shop owner, has been living in two camps — first in Gilgil and then in Naivasha — for the past six months.
He said he was forced to leave Gilgil, but hoped to stay in his current camp. “I would not want to return … people died before my eyes,” he said, according to AllAfrica.com. I would rather stay here but live in peace.”
The BBC reports that some 50 families were turned away by neighbors when trying to return home after the post-election unrest, forcing them back to refugee camps.
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the group has been getting increasing reports about forced closures of camps.
“How can you have a voluntary return program with a deadline? Internally displaced people have the right to return voluntarily, when they feel safe, not when it suits the government,” she said in a May 23 statement on the group’s Web site.
Other Kenyans were pleased to take advantage of the government-provided buses to return home.
“I feel lucky to be back,” declared farmer Meshak Njata as he returned to his home in the town of Molo in the Rift Valley, where much of the fighting occurred, quoted the International Herald Tribune.