What is a Refugee Camp?

A refugee camp is a temporary settlement that is built to receive refugees, asylum-seekers, or displaced people. While refugee camps are built to be temporary, there are many in the world that end up being permanent.

86% of refugees are hosted by developing countries and to put that into perspective, Britain, a developed country, only hosts 0,6% of the world’s refugees. The Middle East and North Africa host the most displaced people with 39%.

The top 5 countries that host refugees are:

  • Turkey –  2,5 million people
  • Pakistan –  1,6 million people
  • Lebanon –  1,1 million people
  • Iran –  400 people
  • Ethiopia –  100 people

Many refugee camps are conducted with many problems present. Some common problems have to do with sanitation, water, food, and housing.

Although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recommends that each refugee receives more than 2.100 calories per day, many refugee camps do not meet this standard. Many camps distribute food that equals to around 1.700 calories per person. Even if refugees receives the recommended amount of calories per day, some are forced to trade their food rations for other goods.

Out of the food rations that each refugee receives, many do not receive an appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables. This causes many refugees to have vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to many harmful diseases. Common Deficiencies that many refugees have are: Vitamin A, Iron, Vitamin C, Niacin, and Thiamin. These deficiencies can have dangerous effects if they are long-term, like anemia, scurvy, and blindness in childhood.

In order to receive more food, some refugees have used a method called recycling. Recycling is when a refugee leaves the camp and reenter under a new identity. By doing this, they receive an extra ration card for food. This method poses many threats because it is a very dangerous process and it also contributes to black markets within refugee camps.

Along with many problems to do with food rations, many camps also lack water that is available for refugees. The minimum recommended daily water intake is 20 liters per person, and the UNHCR estimates that more than 50% of refugee camps in the world cannot provide this to people. Due to lack of water, many people are forced to collect rainwater, including children during times when they have school.

A refugee camp in Kenya, called Kakuma, represents one refugee camp out of many that have these problems. The camp was established in 1992 and is managed by the Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs and the UNHCR. As of 2015, 184.550 refugees live inside the camp. They mainly take in refugees from South Sudan (100.000 people) and Somalia (55.000 people), however, they also host refugees from 20 other countries.

Los movimientos en cifras
Los movimientos en cifras

Within the camp, refugees live inside thatched roof huts, tents, or mud abodes. These accommodations are not entirely secure and refugees must worry about poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions living in the area. Other problems include: dust storms, outbreaks of cholera and malaria, and an average temperature of 40 Celsius. Throughout the camp, many refugees experience malnutrition and overcrowding has increased the spread of infectious diseases.

Even after escaping from persecution in their home country, refugees face more inhumane restrictions in the camp. Refugees cannot move freely about Kenya and must obtain Movement Passes from the UNHCR and the Kenyan Government. Many refugees feel trapped in the camps and continue to face the risk of malnutrition and dehydration.

In May 2016, the Kenyan government announced that they would close all Kenyan refugee camps. By doing this, around 600.000 people would be displaced and more dangers would arise for these refugees. Some of the reasons for shutting down the camps are that there are economic, security and environmental issues. According to Kenya’s secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the biggest influence for closure of Kenya’s refugee camps was the threat of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. While Kenya’s government believes that closing the camps will lower terror attacks within the country, many think that this will actually be ineffective. According to the Deputy Director for Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division, the plan “seems to be the best recruitment strategy for the terror group” since it would send around 600.000 people back into the direction of the terror group.

While this announcement has raised international attention for the inhumanity of the situation, The Kenyan government has stated that they had taken in refugees when the western world turned away. They believe that they have done more than their fair share and it has burdened the country’s economy and safety.

More focus must be given to the growing refugee crisis and developing countries should not be the only ones who carry the financial burden of taking in hundreds of thousands of people. If more countries of the western world begin to aid these refugees, they have a stronger chance of having a healthy life.

 Lydia Castillo

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