50,000 Kenyans living beside railway face eviction

NAIROBI, Kenya — An estimated 50,000 people who live alongside Kenya’s railway lines could see their homes destroyed after the government railway gave the squatters 30 days to move, prompting residents on Friday to threaten to resist violently.

The government order has received sharp criticism from an international human rights group and from those affected, most of whom are slum dwellers in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. The government order does not include a resettlement plan, and residents facing eviction say they don’t know where they will go.

“People have been living and working on these lands for years and a 30-day notice period is wholly inadequate,” said Justus Nyang’aya, director of Amnesty International in Kenya.

The land in question is designated as a railway reserve for about 100 feet (30 meters) on either side of the tracks. Many of the slum dwellers, the city’s poorest residents, settled on the land to avoid paying rent.

The Kenya Railways Corporation said in a notice March 21 that squatters must leave in 30 days or be evicted to make way for a planned expansion of train services.

A spokesman, George Tatache, the railway took note of the residents’ concerns but as of Friday had no plans to extend next week’s deadline. The railway does not plan to compensate people for their demolished structures, and violators could be prosecuted, he said.

Some residents in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, where a railway line connecting Kenya and Uganda winds through tens of thousands of iron-roofed shanties, threatened to resist violently if the railway does not relocate them.

Junk-seller Stephen Mutua Mutiso, 50, said he does not believe the corporation is serious about its expansion program because it gave similar a reason for evicting residents 15 years ago, but did not then expand the tracks.

“The last time they came I did not resist but this time I will fight them off,” Mutiso said.

Amnesty International said in a statement that Kenya will violate international human rights laws if it goes through with the evictions. Nyang’aya said that without proper safeguards the evictions will have a devastating impact on people’s access to water, sanitation, food and schools and could create a humanitarian emergency.

Sam Ouma, the chairman of the Railway Dwellers Federation, said the railway issued a prior eviction notice in 2004, but residents filed a suit against it, forcing the corporation to settle out of court.

Ouma said that he hopes a peaceful resolution will be found, but that if the evictions are forceful, officials will be met with fierce resistance.

Mutiso, the junk trader, said he had to start from scratch in 1995 after the corporation destroyed his home and business along the railway line. Mutiso said he had to take desperate measures and move with his six children and wife into a single-room house measuring 10 feet (3 meters) by 10 feet (3 meters).

He said it took him a year to rebuild his business, which allowed him to rent a bigger house. Mutiso said during that eviction, two people he knew who had lost all their property committed suicide.

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