The Observer (Kampala)

6 August 2014

Uganda: Kenyan Refugees Demand to Go Home

Struggling to survive in Uganda, Kenyans who fled the 2007-08 post-election violence are angry at their government's failure to return them home.

On July 29, the refugees, mainly women led by Joyce Wambui, silently marched in small groups to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kiryandongo settlement. In a petition, they urged UNHCR to push their government to repatriate them as soon as possible.

Wambui told The Observer that life in the settlement was getting harder, following the influx of refugees from South Sudan.

"These days, we Kenyans do not get food aid from UNHCR, since last year in August. When South Sudanese came, they reduced on our land portions and now each of us has half an acre on which we cannot cultivate and feed [our families]," Wambui said.

She said parents had lost control of their children, who had resorted to prostitution to survive.

"There is too much stress on social services; our children are likely to starve in future because education standards have dropped. You can find 150 pupils in a class, and some pupils are learning under tree shades," Wambui said.

A teary Ann Wambui, another refugee, criticised the Kenyan government for ignoring their pleas to return home. She said she could not return on her own to Rift Valley province in case violence breaks out again.

"My eight buildings were set alight in front of me; my people were killed; now I cannot go back anyhow without government assistance. I want to return to Kenya because life is miserable here. No land, no food; our children are becoming commercial sex workers, the habits they never had. Please our president think about us," Wambui said.

The refugees say they have written to their government since last year without getting a single response.

"President Uhuru had shown interest in us and we have been preparing ourselves. They later said they could consider us in the 2014/2015 financial year's budget but we have heard nothing being said about us. Life is biting especially these days when our land portions were cut off, food aid cut off completely," said one Joseph Kimitios.

James Onyango, the UNHCR associate community services officer, denied the refugees' food aid had been cut off.

"All the refugees are still getting the food ration they are entitled to depending on the period they have spent in the country. They are receiving it as it is provided by World Food Programme," he said.

About the refugee repatriation, Onyango said Uganda and Kenya had to reach an agreement.

"Discussions are underway to repatriate them; once they are concluded, you will see people going back home. For those who want to return on their own, they have the right... " Onyango said.

Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement is home to at least 31,369 refugees, including 1,485 Kenyans. Majority are new arrivals who fled the recent fighting in South Sudan since December last year. Originally, there were more than 3,000 Kenyans but hundreds returned when their government offered KShs 400,000 to each person who returned home.

Some, however, said the money was too little.

"The cost of living is very high now in Kenya. More money is needed at least a million shillings. We also heard that some of those who returned home in 2010 did not get that Shs 400,0000," said one Jane Irungu.

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