Refugee camp

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For the 1996 reggae album, see Refugee Camp - Bootleg Versions.
Refugee camp (located in present-day eastern Congo-Kinshasa) for Rwandans following the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.
A camp in Guinea for refugees from Sierra Leone.
Nahr el-Bared, Palestinian refugee camp in North Lebanon in 2005.
Mitzpe Ramon, development camp for Jewish refugees, southern Israel, 1957

A refugee camp is a temporary settlement built to receive refugees. Camps with over a hundred thousand people are common, but as of 2012 the average-sized camp housed around 11,400.[1] Usually they are built and run by a government, the United Nations, or international organizations, (such as the Red Cross) or NGOs.

Refugee camps generally develop in an impromptu fashion with the aim of meeting basic human needs for only a short time. Due to crowding and lack of infrastructure, some refugee camps can become unhygienic, leading to a high incidence of infectious diseases, including epidemics. If the return of refugees is prevented (often by civil war), a humanitarian crisis can result or continue. "Refugee camp" typically describes a settlement of people who have escaped war in their home country and have fled to a country of first asylum, but some camps also house environmental migrants and economic refugees.

Some refugee camps exist for decades and people can stay in refugee camps for decades, both of which have major implications for human rights.[2] Some camps grow into permanent settlements and even merge with nearby older communities, such as Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon and Deir al-Balah, Palestine.

Refugee camps may sometimes serve as headquarters for the recruitment, support and training of guerilla organizations engaged in fighting in the refugees' area of origin; such organizations often use humanitarian aid to supply their troops.[3] Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire[4] and Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand[5] supported armed groups until their destruction by local military forces.


Facilities of a refugee camp can include the following:[6]

Schools and markets may be prohibited by the host country government in order to discourage refugees from settling permanently in camps.

Many refugee camps also have:

  • Places for refugees to collect water, usually from tanks where water is off-loaded from trucks, then filtered and/or treated with disinfectant chemicals such as chlorine
  • Bathing areas, often separated by gender
  • Cemeteries or crematoria
  • Locations for solid waste disposal.

In order to understand and monitor an emergency over a period of time, the development and organisation of the camps can be tracked by satellite[7] and analyzed via GIS.[8][9]


People may stay in these camps, receiving emergency food and medical aid, until it is safe to return to their home contries. If it becomes safer they can make use of voluntary repatriation programmes.[10] In some cases, often after several years, the host country government may prefer to see that refugees are resettled in "third countries" which accept refugees seeking asylum. In other cases, the host country government may choose to forcibly repatriate refugees to their country of origin, in violation of international law. In rare cases, they may be naturalised by the country they fled to.[11]

Although camps are intended to be temporary, it is possible for camps to remain in place for decades. Some Palestinian refugee camps have existed since 1948, while other well-known camps such as Buduburam in Ghana or Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya have hosted populations for over 20 years.

Work and employment in refugee camps[edit]

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a policy of helping refugees work and be productive, using their existing skills to meet their own needs and needs of the host country, to:

"Ensure the right of refugees to access work and other livelihood opportunities as they are available for nationals... Match programme interventions with corresponding levels of livelihood capacity (existing livelihood assets such as skills and past work experience) and needs identified in the refugee population, and the demands of the market... Assist refugees in becoming self-reliant. Cash / food / rental assistance delivered through humanitarian agencies should be short-term and conditional and gradually lead to self-reliance activities as part of longer-term development... Convene internal and external stakeholders around the results of livelihood assessments to jointly identify livelihood support opportunities."[12]

If enough aid is provided to refugees, it can help host countries too, through stimulus effects.[13] However refugee support does not usually provide cash to create effective demand,[14] and refugees without cash are restricted by host countries lest they depress wages and opportunities for locals. Host countries also sometimes wish to avoid cultural and political changes that integrating refugees would cause.

Refugee tents at Arbat Transit Camp for Syrian Refugees in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, March 2014.

Refugee resettlement[edit]

Globally, about 17 countries (Australia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States) regularly accept "quota refugees" from refugee camps.[15] The UNHCR works in partnership with these countries and resettlement programmes, such as the Gateway Protection Programme,[16] support refugees after arrival in the new countries. In recent years, most quota refugees have come from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and the former Yugoslavia which have been disrupted by wars and revolutions.

In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Jewish refugees were initially resettled in refugee camps known variously as Immigrant camps, Ma'abarot, and "development towns" prior to absorption into mainstream Israeli society. Conversely, many Palestinian refugees remain settled in Palestinian refugee camps, while others have been absorbed into Jordanian society or the Palestinian territories. Since 1948, the sovereign State of Israel has guaranteed asylum and citizenship to Jewish refugees, while the self-declared State of Palestine remains unable to absorb the Palestinian refugees, due to lack of de facto sovereignty over its claimed territories.[citation needed]

Notable refugee camps[edit]

Darfur refugee camp in Chad
Nong Samet Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border, May 1984
  • Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania openend in 1997 and initially hosted 60.000 refugees from the DRC. Due to the recent conflicts in Burundi it also hosts 90.000 refugees from Burundi. In 2014 it was the 9th largest refugee camp.[30] However, since the conflict in Burundi it is considered one of the world's biggest and most overcrowded camps.[31]
  • Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya was opened in 1991. It hosts 18 different nationalities, largest groups are Ethiopians, Sudanese and Somali refugees.In 2014 it was the third largest refugee camp worldwide.[27][30]
  • Ruyigi refugee camp in Burundi hosts refugees from DRC.
  • Timisoara Emergency Transit Centre for refugees in Romania.[32] It can accommodate up to 200 people and provides a temporary safe haven – for up to six months – for individuals or groups who need to be evacuated immediately from life-threatening situations before being resettled.[33]
  • There are a number of refugee camps in Nepal hosting Bhutanese refugees. They host Lhotshampas who were forced to flee from Bhutan to Nepal.
  • There are refugee camps in Ethiopia, hosting refugees from Somalia, in Dolo Odo, in southern Ethiopia.[34] In 2014 Dolo Ado was considered to be the second largest camp.[27][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UNHCR: "Displacement: The New 21st Century Challenge," 2012; p. 35.
  2. ^ Daniel, E.V., and Knudsen, J. eds. Mistrusting Refugees 1995, University of California Press. ISBN 9780520088993
  3. ^ Barber, Ben. "Feeding refugees, or war? The dilemma of humanitarian aid." Foreign Affairs (1997): 8-14.
  4. ^ Van Der Meeren, Rachel. "Three decades in exile: Rwandan refugees 1960-1990." J. Refugee Stud. 9 (1996): 252.
  5. ^ a b Reynell, J. Political Pawns: Refugees on the Thai-Kampuchean Border. Oxford: Refugee Studies Programme, 1989.
  6. ^ Médecins Sans Frontières, Refugee Health: An approach to emergency situations, Macmillan, Oxford: 1997.
  7. ^ "Syrian refugee camps in Turkish territory". 
  8. ^ Beaudou A., Cambrézy L., Zaiss R., "Geographical Information system, environment and camp planning in refugee hosting areas: Approach, methods and application in Uganda," Institute for Research in Development (IRD); November 2003.
  9. ^ Alain Beaudou, Luc Cambrézy, Marc Souris, "Environment, cartography, demography and geographical information system in the refugee camps Dadaab, Kakuma – Kenya," October 1999 UNHCR – IRD (ORSTOM).
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Promoting Livelihoods and Self-reliance" (PDF). UNHCR, 2011. Retrieved 9 Sep 2013. 
  13. ^ "Development assistance and refugees" (PDF). Oxford University, 2009. Retrieved 9 Sep 2013. 
  14. ^ "Investing in refugees: new solutions for old problems". The Guardian, 15 July 2013. Retrieved 9 Sep 2013. 
  15. ^ Refugees and New Zealand at the Refugee Services
  16. ^
  17. ^ Life getting harder for Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan
  18. ^ "Syrian refugee women in Domiz camp struggling for their rights in Iraqi Kurdistan". 
  19. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "Syria Regional Refugee Response - Iraq". UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response. 
  20. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "Syria Regional Refugee Response - Jordan - Mafraq Governorate - Zaatari Refugee Camp". UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response. 
  21. ^ "Future of Liberian Refugees in Ghana Uncertain". VOA. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ UNHCR: "Displacement: The New 21st Century Challenge," p. 34.
  24. ^ "Kenya dadaab the world's largest refugee camp - CARE International". 
  25. ^ "Dadaab: The World's Biggest Refugee Camp". July 11, 2011. 
  26. ^ "Inside world's biggest refugee camp". July 8, 2011. 
  27. ^ a b c
  28. ^
  29. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "UNHCR - Sri Lanka". 
  30. ^ a b c
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^

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