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. Usually they are built and run by a government, the United Nations, or international organizations, (such as the Red Cross) or NGOs. But there are also unofficial refugee camps, like the Calais jungle, where refugees are largely left without support of governments or international organisations.
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. 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. Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire and Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand supported armed groups until their destruction by local military forces.
Facilities of a refugee camp can include the following:
- An administrative headquarters to coordinate services
- Sleeping accommodations (frequently tents)
- Hygiene facilities (washing areas and latrines or toilets)
- Clinics, hospitals and immunization centers
- Food distribution and therapeutic feeding centers
- Communication equipment (e.g. radio)
- Security, including protection from banditry (e.g. barriers and security checkpoints) and peacekeeping troops to prevent armed violence
- Places of worship
- Schools and training centers (if permitted by the host country)
- Markets and shops (if permitted by the host country)
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.
- Churches or other religious centers
People may stay in these camps, receiving emergency food and medical aid, until it is safe to return to their home countries. If it becomes safer they can make use of voluntary repatriation programmes. 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.
Although camps are intended to be temporary, some exist for decades and people can stay there for decades, both of which have major implications for human rights. Some Palestinian refugee camps exist since 1948, camps for Eritreans in Sudan (such as the Shagarab camp) exist since 1968, the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria exist since 1975, camps for Burmese in Thailand (such as the Mae La refugee camp) exist since 1986, Buduburam in Ghana since 1990, or Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya since 1991 and 1992, respectively. In fact “protracted refugee situations now account for the vast majority of the world’s refugee population”. Some camps grow into permanent settlements and even merge with nearby older communities, such as Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon and Deir al-Balah, Palestine.
Work and employment
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."
If enough aid is provided to refugees, it can help host countries too, through stimulus effects. However refugee support does not usually provide cash to create effective demand, 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.
Many refugees express mistrust of community leaders or representatives, with some of them alleging that they are bribed by employees of humanitarian organizations in the camps so that they do not genuinely represent fellow refugees. Refugee representatives can act as a buffer for camp authorities as they stop the latter from being swamped by refugee concerns. Even though the existence of refugee representatives gives the impression that camps are democratic, these representatives are in fact part of a disciplinary machinery.
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. The UNHCR works in partnership with these countries and resettlement programmes, such as the Gateway Protection Programme, that 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.
Notable refugee camps
- There are 12 camps, such as Breidjing Camp, in the east of Chad. They are hosting approximately 250,000 Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region in Sudan and were opened in 2002. The other camps are Oure Cassoni, Mile, Treguine, Iridimi, Touloum, Kounoungou, Goz Amer, Farchana, Am Nabak, Gaga and Djabal.
- There are a number of camps, such as Nakivale, Kayaka II, Kyangwali and Rwamanja in Uganda. They host 170,000 refugees from South Sudan.
- The are four camps in Maban County in South Sudan hosting Sudanese refugees. Yusuf Batil camp is home to 37,000 refugees, Doro camp to 44,000, Jamam camp hosts 20,000 refugees and Gendrassa camp 10,000.
- Camps in the south of Chad, such as Dosseye, Kobitey, Mbitoye, Danamadja, Sido, Doyaba and Djako are hosting approximately 113,000 refugees from Central African Republic.
- Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana, home to more than 12,000 Liberians (opened 1990)
- Dadaab refugee camps (Ifo, Ifo II, Dagahaley, Hagadera, and Kambioos) in North Eastern Kenya, established in 1991 and now hosting more than 330,000 Somali refugees. It is by far the world's largest refugee camp and even if taken separately Hagadera, Dagahaley, Ifo II and Ifo were (in this order) the world's four largest camps in 2013.
- Sahrawi refugee camps near Tindouf, South Western Algeria, were opened circa 1976 and are called Laayoune, Smara, Awserd, February 27, Rabouni and Dakhla.
- Ras Ajdir camp, close to the Tunisian border in Libya, was opened in 2011 and is housing between 20,000 and 30,000 Libyan refugees.
- Dzaleka camp in the Dowa District of Malawi is home to 17,000 refugees from Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda.
- Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania opened 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. However, since the conflict in Burundi it is considered one of the world's biggest and most overcrowded camps.
- 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.
- Ruyigi refugee camp in Burundi hosts refugees from DRC.
- There are a number of camps close to Dolo Ado in southern Ethiopia, hosting refugees from Somalia. In 2014 the Dolo Ado camps (Melkadida, Bokolmanyo, Buramino, Kobe Camp, Fugnido, Hilaweyn and Adiharush) were considered to be the second largest.
- Jomvu, Hatimy and Swaleh Nguru camps near Mombasa, Kenya, were closed in 1997. Refugees, mainly Somalis, were either forced to relocate to Kakuma or were repatriated into unsafe Somalia and given $30 for leaving voluntarily.
- Jalalaqsi, Qoryoley and Sigalow in Somalia.
- Hart Sheik in Ethiopia hosted more than 250,000 mostly Somalians refugees between 1988 and 2004.
- Itang camp in Ethiopia hosted 182,000 refugees from South Sudan and was the world's largest refugee camp for some time during the 1990s.
- Benaco and Ngara in Tanzania.
- Kala, Meheba and Mwange camps in the northwest of Zambia host refugees from Angola and DRC.
- There are 12 camps, such as Shagarab and Wad Sharifey, in eastern Sudan. They host around 66,000 mostly Eritrean refugees, the first of whom arrived in 1968.
- Ali Addeh (or Ali Adde) and Hol-Hol camps in Djibouti host 23,000 refugees, who are mainly from Somalia, but also Ethiopians and Eritreans.
- Osire camp in central Namibia was established in 1992 to accommodate refugees from Angola, Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda and Somalia. It had 20,000 inhabitants in 1998 and only 3,000 in 2014.
- Lainé and Kouankan (I & II) camps in Guinea hosted nearly 29,300 refugees mostly from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire. The number reduced to 15,000 in 2009.
- Cameroon hosted more than 240,000 UNHCR registered refugees in 2014, mainly from the Central African Republic: Minawao refugee camp in the north and Gado Badzere, Borgop, Ngam, Timangolo, Mbile and Lolo refugee camps in the east of Cameroon.
- There are a number of camps in Rwanda that host 85,000 refugees from the DRC: Gihembe, Kigeme, Kiziba, Mugombwa and Nyabiheke camps.
- Mentao camp in Burkina Faso hosts 13,000 Malian refugees.
- PTP camp near Zwedru, Bahn camp and Little Wlebo camp in eastern Liberia is home to 12,000 refugees from Ivory Coast.
- M’Bera camp in southeastern Mauritania hosts 50,000 Malian refugees.
- Choucha camp in Tunisia hosted nearly 20,000 refugees from 13 different countries who fled from Libya in 2011. Half of them are sub-Saharan African and Arab refugees and the other half are Bangladeshis who had been working in Libya. 3,000 refugees remained the camp in 2012, 1,300 in 2013 and its closure is planned.
- There were a number of camps on the Thai-Cambodian border in Thailand which hosted Khmer people, Cambodians and Vietnamese between 1979 and 1993 (see Indochina refugee crisis), such as Nong Samet, Nong Chan, Sa Kaeo, Site Two, Khao-I-Dang.
- Whitehead Camp, Hong Kong, considered the "world's largest prison" in the early 1990s
- Philippine Refugee Processing Center for Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian refugees fleeing wars in Indochina.
- Camps for Sri Lankan Tamils, established in Tamil Nadu in India in 1983, with over 110,000 refugees by 1998.
- Niatak and Torbat-e Jam camps in Iran host Afghan refugees.
- There are a number of camps in Pakistan that host Afghan refugees, such as Panian, Shamshatoo, Old Akora, Gamkol, Barakai, Badaber, Girdi Jungle, Azakhel and Saranan. Jelazee camp, which also hosted Afghan refugees was closed in 2001, because of security concerns.
- Champtala is a camp in Afghanistan and hosts Afghan refugees who returned from Pakistan.
- There are a number of camps in Nepal, such as the 3 Beldangi refugee camps, Goldhap, Khudunabari, Sanischare and Timai hosting Bhutanese refugees. They are Lhotshampas who were forced to flee from Bhutan to Nepal.
- Mae La refugee camp in Thailand hosts around 50,000 Burmese of the Karen ethnicity.
- There are two camps, Nayapara and Kutupalong, in south-eastern Bangladesh hosting 30,000 registered Rohingya people who fled from Myanmar. It is estimated that 200,000 undocumented Rohingya refugees are living outside the camps with little access to humanitarian assistance.
- Galang Refugee Camp in Indonesia accommodated Indochinese refugees between 1979 and 1996.
- Camps for Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, including Domiz in Dohuk Governorate, Arbat in Sulaymaniyah, and Qushtapa, Basirma, Gawilan, Kawergosk and Darashakran in Erbil Governorate. (see also Syrian refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan)
- Camps for Syrian refugees in Turkey, such as Urfa, Kilis Oncupinar, Gaziantep and those in the Hatay Province that were opened in 2011 (see also Syrian refugee camps in Turkey).
- Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, hosting 144,000 Syrian refugees as of July 2013, although the population in November 2013 had dropped to around 112,000 as the Syrian civil war continues.
- Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan, hosting 4,200 Syrian refugees.
- Immigrant camps (Israel) (1947–1950) and Ma'abarot transition camps (1950–1963) to accommodate Jewish refugees and immigrants in Israel.
- Palestinian refugee camps were opened between 1948 and 1968. The 59 camps are recognized by the UNRWA and host 1.5 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These camps contain the world's largest and oldest refugee population.
- Yarmouk camp, Syria: once home to half a million Palestinian refugees (about 18,000 in 2015) is just outside Damascus. It has been besieged by Bashar al-Assad's regime, as well as coming under attack by the Islamic State group.
- Three camps received Palestinian refugees from Iraq: Al Tanf, Al Hol and Al Waleed. There are around 2,000 in Al Hol and in Al Waleed camp, which is on the Iraqi side of the border. Al Tanf, which was on the Syrian side and hosted 1,600 Palestinians, was closed in 2010.
- Al Kharaz in Yemen hosts 14,000 refugees from Somalia who crossed the Gulf of Aden.
- Al-Mazraq camps (1-3) host around 24,000 internally displaced persons in Yemen.
- Cyprus internment camps (1946–1949) to accommodate Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors
- Lampedusa immigrant reception center for refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
- Ħal Far, Malta for African immigrants.
- Timisoara Emergency Transit Centre for refugees in Romania. 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.
- Sangatte camp and the Calais jungle in northern France.
- The Oksbøl Refugee Camp was the largest camp for German Refugees in Denmark after World War II.
- Traiskirchen camp in eastern Austria hosts refugees that come to Europe as part of the European migrant crisis.
- Friedland refugee camp in Germany hosted refugees who fled from the former eastern territories of Germany at the end of World War II, between 1944 and 1950. Between 1950 and 1987 it was a transit centre for East German (GDR) citizens who wanted to flee to Germany (FRG).
- Kjesäter in Sweden was a refugee camp and transit centre for Norwegian refugees fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.
- Kløvermarken in Denmark was a refugee camp that hosted 19,000 German refugees between 1945 and 1949.
- Vrela Ribnička refugee camp in Montenegro was built in 1994 and houses refugees of Bosnian origin who were displaced during the Yugoslav Wars.
Refugee camps by country and population size
|Country||Camp||2014 ||2013 ||2012 ||2011 ||2010 ||2009 ||2008 ||2007 ||2006 |
|Thailand||Mae La Oon||12,245||8,675||9,611||10,204||11,991||13,811||13,478||13,450||14,366|
|Thailand||Mae Ra Ma Luang||13,825||8,421||9,414||10,269||11,749||13,571||11,304||11,578||12,840|
- Displaced persons camp
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- Tent city
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Refugee camps.|
- UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency - Data Sharing Tool - Interactive map and passport of every refugee camp, data sharing tool updated by every organisation in the camp
- Camp Management Toolkit published by Norwegian Refugee Council
- Shelter Library Resource for organisations responding to the transitional settlement and shelter needs of displaced populations
- Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City. An awareness raising touring event organized by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
- U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants' Campaign to End Refugee Warehousing in refugee camps around the world, people are confined to their settlement and denied their basic rights.
- Refuge Essay on Life in a Refugee Camp
- Thai-Cambodian Border Camps
- An Assessment of Sphere Humanitarian Standards for Shelter and Settlement Planning in Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Camps
- The open source and open hardware OLPC One School Per Child Initiative link Refugee Camps