A Guide to Understanding Refugee Camps

A Guide to Understanding Refugee Camps

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, OGL, 1.0

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, OGL, 1.0

What is a refugee camp? How many refugee camps are around the world? How is life in a refugee camp? These are very important questions that thousands of people ask with regards to asylum seekers, refugees, and questions about refugee camps.

In this guide, we are going to talk about refugee camps, about different types of refugee camps, how refugee camps work, how many refugee camps exist, we will discuss different types of refugee campus such as UN refugee campus, as well as a host of other issues. For example, in our discussion, we will also analyze things that are needed for an effective refugee camp to exist, as well as talk about the different challenges that refugee camp volunteers and workers often face.

This article on refugees and makeshift camps is very important in international relations today. With the conflicts in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, among many other places, the number of individuals fleeing their country in the hope of securing safety is in the millions. It is therefore necessary to understand the magnitude of how pertinent refugee campus are related to human rights, humanitarian issues, and international relations as a whole.

What is a Refugee Camp?

One of the first questions that a beginning student of international relations may ask when hearing about such camps is the question: What is a refugee camp? A refugee camp is a location that is created specifically to house and provide additional needs of refugees, many of whom are fleeing conflict in their home country. Refugee camps are set up to give support to these refugees until either the conflict subsides, or the refugees are granted asylum in a country. Refugee camps are build in different sizes, and often with different resources, depending on the amount of funding available, and also the number of refugees in the camp, or the total number of expected refugees that may seek residence and protection at the refugee camp.

Speaking of the importance of refugee camps when discussing humanitarianism, UNHCR (2014) states that: “camps can facilitate the rapid provision of protection and life-saving assistance in the event of a large-scale refugee influx. the establishment of camps can also facilitate the identification of people with specific needs and the delivery of services to them. UNHCR may at times agree to support the establishment of a camp, in order to ensure admission to territory and access to asylum” (4).

What is a Refugee?

In order to better understand the role of refugee camps in international politics, it is first necessary to know what we mean when using the term refugee. When discussing refugees, in international law, “The core definition of a “refugee” is contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which define a refugee as an individual who: “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or — unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”” (Stanton Russell, 2002).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee in the following way:”Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. There were 19.5 million of them worldwide at the end of 2014. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as “refugees” with access to assistance from States, UNHCR, and other organizations. They are so recognized precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they need sanctuary elsewhere. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences” (UNHCR, 2015).

The definition of a refugee does different from an internally displaced person (IDP). Similar to a refugee, an internally displaced person does flee for the same reasons that a refugee would have to leave their home for. The difference between a refugee and an internally displaced person is that an IDP is still within the borders of their own state. But overall, the UNHCR states that there are over 59 million individuals around the world who have had to leave their homes due to persecution or conflict, or other issues such as rights violations (UNHCR, 2015).

The purpose of a refugee camp is to help those who have had to flee their country because of conflict or persecution. These refugee camps are set up to offer needed provisions for those who have little left, due to leaving most possessions behind in their country of origin.

Having said this, there are difficulties in defining what a refugee camp is, particularly when compared to a settlement. Refugee camps and settlements are seen as quite different from one another. Now, over time, refugee camps can become more permanent settlements, even if that was not the original intention when the refugee camp was established.

Schmidt offers five important considerations when attempting to distinguish between a refugee camp and a settlement. They are:

  1. Freedom of Movement: Movement at a refugee camp is seen as much more restrictive than at a settlement. This is different than a camp, whose residents often have much more freedom in movement; they are able to leave, whereas the choice to leave in a refugee camp is much less possible (Malkki, 1995) (given their conditions, an inability to go elsewhere, etc…).
  2. Mode of Assistance: Schmidt argues that “one may distinguish between camps based on relief handouts and food distribution with little possibility for refugees to engage in subsistence farming or other economic activities, and, on the other hand, situations in which refuges can engage in a wider range of economic activities. Measurable indicators may be plot size in camps and the range of de facto restrictions on work. In camps, generally only limited income-generating programmes are permitted, while self-settled refugees will tend to be more integrated into the local economy, be it with or without governmental permission.”
  3. Issues of Governance: One of the other key differences between refugee camps and settlements are the way the two areas may be governed or run. Schmidt explains that “Camps are thus notably distinguished from self-settlements by the parameters of control: the restrictions on socio-economic, political, and cultural freedoms that are placed on their inhabitants over and above those existing for local populations.” In settlements, the individuals in those settlements often have much more voice in terms of the decision-making and politics of the settlement. This is rarely the same when discussing refugee camps. Here, the refugee camps are often run by aid workers, and refugees have much less of a position as it pertains to governance of the camps.
  4. Temporary vs Permanent Shelter: While refugee camps are viewed has having temporary shelters (which may be tents, or other forms of shelter), settlements are often seen has having more permanent shelter structures.
  5. Population size: The last key distinction between a refugee camp and a settlements is related to the issue of population size. Due largely to choice, settlement numbers can be much lower, and often more controlled than those at refugee camps. At a refugee camp, there not only may be more fluidity in the population (people leaving due to asylum cases going through, for example), but the influx of refugees at these camps may be quite high, particularly if the conflict is continuing on. These sorts of issues are less directly related to settlements.

As the UNHCR (2014) explains, “the defining characteristic of a camp, however, is typically some degree of limitation on the rights and freedoms of refugees and their ability to make meaningful choices about their lives” (4).

Refugee Camp Challenges

Sadly, there are a number of challenges that come up for those living in a refugee camp, as well as those working as a refugee coordinator in their attempts to establish and maintaing a well-functioning refugee camp. Here are just some of the challenges that might come up at a refugee camp:

Population: A great refugee camp challenge is high populations of refugees looking for shelter and protection. Refugee camps are not only meant to be temporary, but given limited resources, are often facing multiple stress points as it pertains to housing, food, medicines, clean water, etc… With conflicts in nearby states extending from days, to months, to years, citizens in those countries of origins continue to make their way out, hoping to reach a refugee camp, where they can be given basic life necessities.

In addition, such as the case of refugees in Jordan, there are many who are moving from urban cities back towards refugee camps. This phenomena is “driven by increasing vulnerability of urban refugees in Jordan whose savings are depleted after years in exile, and who are unable to find secure legal livelihoods. Those living in Amman, in particular, are trying to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the Middle East” (UNHCR, 2015b).

Food: Given that refugees are coming without anything, one of the most important needs for individuals at the refugee camps is the access to food. Effective refugee camps will attempt to ensure that adequate food supply is available. However, guaranteeing enough food is quite difficult, particularly as refugee numbers continue to rise in the said camp. As has been noted elsewhere, the vast majority of refugee camps do not have sufficient food supplies. As we shall see, this can then lead to conflict, deteriorating health, a lack of focus on other tasks (such as education, for children), among other things.

One of the challenges facing many refugees from Syria (who are in Jordan, for example) is that while they were given food vouchers, the time period on continuing these vouchers has expired, leaving many of the refugees without food, and without great opportunities for access to food (whether it is a lack of money, or employment opportunities).

Disease: Preventing the spread of diseases continues to be an ongoing challenge for refugee camp volunteers and workers.

Among the most concerning diseases that can spread are intestinal diseases such as cholera. For example, cholera continues to be an alarming problem in Kenya. Specifically, in late 2015 “Kenya’s cholera epidemic has reached the world’s largest refugee camp and doctors worry the outbreak could continue to spread. Seven people have died in Dadaab, in northern Kenya near the border with Somalia, since the outbreak was declared in November, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, said in a statement” (CNN, 2015).

There are a number of ways in which such diseases take hold in refugee camps. Part of it is a lack of education on how such diseases occur, and how they can spread. Furthermore, a lack of sanitation, or clean water leads to higher risk of contracting the disease. By not having sufficient clear or running water can allow diseases to take hold, which in turn could have a negative impact on the entire refugee camp. And although the response to diseases such as cholera are to set up treatment areas, underfunding continues to hurt efforts to stop the spreading of the disease. Regarding the cholera outbreak in late 2015 in Kenya, for example, it was pointed out that if bathrooms are not monitored, it can lead to more spreading of the diseases, which is part of the reason for the cholera outbreak. In addition, on top of bathroom conditions, there were also reported concerns about proper hygiene, and without clean water or other supplies, the risks that this can pose to unclean food and water, which in turn raises the rid of contracting intestinal diseases. Therefore, workers at the camp have called for more attention to sanitation, given the detrimental effects that unhygienic conditions can lead to in the refugee camps (CNN, 2015).

“The fact that this outbreak has occurred further highlights the dire hygiene and living conditions in the camp and a lack of proper long-term investment in sanitation services,” said Charles Gaudry, head of the MSF mission in Kenya.

Mental Health: Another challenge for refugee workers is finding ways to treat mental health problems that refugees may be facing. McClelland (2014) writes that “The longer a refugee resides in a camp, the harder it can become to sustain psychological well-being.” Sadly, support services are often few, both in terms of offering physical treatments, along with adequate mental health support.

Security and Gender Based Violence: Ensuring proper security can be another difficulty in refugee camps. A lack of police force can make it difficult to address crimes, or control any outbreaks of violence. In addition, sexual and gender based violence continues to be a real large problem in many refugee camps. For example, “Domestic violence is the most commonly reported form of SGBV both inside and outside the camps [in Jordan]. Social workers, psychologists, and lawyers, estimate that over 50% of the survivors seeking support services, are survivors of domestic violence. Syrian women have reported that their husbands are under immense stress and that this increases physical and psychological violence against them and against children within the home.5 SGBV incidents are most often reported to have been perpetrated by male relatives (husbands, uncles, and brothers)” (1).

Weather conditions: Along with food, disease, and clean water concern, and violence and security issues, another major challenge for those in refugee camps is often the weather, and in particular, living adequately through cold winter weather. Refugee camp resources are often minimal, base necessities for survival. But these conditions often become worse come winter time. What was little clothing now becomes life threatening. Shelters that are not made to sufficiently withstand cold temperatures will offer no respite for refugees.

Here is a short 2013 UNHCR video about winter temperatures in the Bekaa Valley refugee camp in Lebanon. The video discusses some of the problems that Syrian children refugees face while living in the camps during the winter season.

As was pointed out in the video, the winter weather alone is a significant problem. But winter weather, combined with a lack of food, a lack of warm clothing, as well as a rise in the number of refugees continuing to make their way to the refugee camp makes overall conditions of a refugee camp much more difficult.

Not only are refugee workers worried about what winter will bring, but even non-winter conditions an lead to additional problems. For example, rain can impose its own challenges to adequate refugee camp conditions. For example, if camp conditions such as a lack of sanitation are already existing, rain can make matters worse. This was seen in Kenya, where Charles Gaudry, the head of Doctors Without Borders in Kenya, said that “The rains are exacerbating an already-precarious hygiene situation,” said Gaudry. “While immediate measures are now being put in place to address the cholera outbreak, it is crucial also that proper investment is made on a longer term basis to improve living conditions for refugees and prevent future epidemics” (CNN, 2015).

Child Primary and Second Education: One of the other tragedies of war is the effect that conflict has on children, and children refugees. Millions of children are forced to flee their countries and become refugees. Many of them end up at refugee camps, where there is a serious possibility that they will have to wait years before potentially finding permanent residence in a country.

Employment and Skills Training: Given that refugee camps are meant to be temporary shelters, and knowing that few of the refugees will be able to go back to their homes any time soon (if ever), it becomes paramount that refugees are learning skills that will better prepare them for future employment opportunities in the countries that they may resettle in. It is said that in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, “There are also some 9,500 young people in the camp aged between 19-24 who need skills training and, like their older counterparts, also need livelihood opportunities. Some 5.2 per cent of these were at university in Syria but had to drop out due to the conflict, while just 1.6 per cent successfully graduated” (UNHCR, 2015b). However, getting sufficient training in refugee camps continues to be a problem. For example, there are often few educational resources at these camps, whether it is a lack of computers, school areas for study, as well as a shortage of teachers to educate the refugees on these different skills.

Because of these different issues that complicate humanitarian relief efforts, it has been noted that at times “Faced with these risks and challenges, many refugees decide to settle outside of camps or designated areas. Where this violates national laws and policies, refugees may face serious consequences, such as the risk of detention or the confiscation and destruction of property or businesses. refugees in these circumstances may avoid registering with UNHCR or even making contact altogether, placing them beyond the effective reach of UNHCR’s protection” (2014: 4). Understanding the problems with refugee camps as long term solutions, organizations working on refugee issues are finding ways to create alternatives to refugee camps whenever possible.

Effective Refugee Camp Management

Given the numerous problems that can arise in a refugee camp, it is essential to have a multifaceted plan in place that allows for optimal conditions for a refugee camp to operate. In a very important piece entitled How to Build A Perfect Refugee Camp, Mac McClelland (2014) speaks about what needs to be in place to ensure full safety and health of refugees in the camps. Looking at the ___camp in Turkey, which is run by Turkish authorities, McClelland found that what was meant to be a short-term camp (and arguably the reason why the government committed so many resources to the refugee camp), has turned into a multi-year camp for Syrians that have escaped violence.

This camp, for example, seems to address a number of the problems that often arise in refugee camps. For example, the homes are 23×10 feet, and have three bedrooms. This is a far cry from the makeshift tents at many other refugee camps. But along with this, there is an indoor bathroom, and internal plumbing, a rare feature in refugee camps. Furthermore, there is running water inside the trailer, and each residence also has a refrigerator, as well as a stove (McClelland, 2014). Plus, there are clearly many amenities that would be more easily defined as luxuries, such as a colored screen television with over 1,000 channels (through satellite reception). Now, these residences have multiple people living in them, but the conditions seem to offer things that most camps do not provide. Again, these sorts of cases are quite rare.

An effective refugee camp should have adequate health standards. For example, while some might view it as a luxury, having an efficient plumbing system for proper waste disposal is indeed needed, particularly given the rise of cholera. In addition, if possible, the living conditions should be more spacious, and should be able to guard from rain, as well as winter conditions. Furthermore, effective refugee camps should have enough teachers working with the refugee children on their academic studies.

In addition, there should be not only sufficient food and water supply, but the food should also be efficiently distributed. The way that the refugee camp in Kilis, Turkey deals with food is another reason why it has received such high praises. Specifically, “At Kilis, there are three grocery stores, side by side like a mini strip mall. Every family is given a debit card when they register, and every month, they get a balance of 80 Turkish lira, close to $40, per person for food and $10 per person for sundries. Inside the grocery stores are undulating produce sections, meat counters, dry-goods shelves and refrigerated dairy cases. At the checkout, refugees swipe their cards and show their IDs” (McClelland, 2014). This approach has been valued for the following reasons:

“Nesrin Semen, a senior program assistant for the World Food Programme, which is helping run the project, told me that this is “a new modality of providing food assistance.” The W.F.P. doesn’t have an office here, as it does in other countries’ refugee camps, but the government invited it in for this pilot program. Semen was here with a team to check on how it was going — well, seemed to be the assessment. “It’s effective,” she began, “it’s cost-effective, it’s faster” — more so than, say, shipping food to storage centers, transporting it to camp distribution centers and having people wait in line to pick up bland rations, as the W.F.P. does in some other countries. “There are no delays; it’s logistically simple,” she continued, adding that “it supports the local economy.” In a survey, the refugees reported that they liked the grocery-store/debit-card system. It requires infrastructure, like electricity and an Internet connection, that not all refugee-camp locations have. But “in the future,” Semen said, “anywhere we can do this, we will.”

A Syrian refugee woman completing her shopping in Amman, Jordan. Food vouchers from the World Food Programme, funded by UK aid, are providing a lifeline for some of the nearly 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. DFIK, CC 2.0

A Syrian refugee woman completing her shopping in Amman, Jordan. Food vouchers from the World Food Programme, funded by UK aid, are providing a lifeline for some of the nearly 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. DFIK, CC 2.0

With regards to disease, organizations are working to ensure that diseases such as cholera do not take hold, or spread, in refugee camps. For example, not only is the need to implement clean water and sanitation programs, but there should also be continued education about how diseases can spread if adequate hygiene is not in place. Moreover, organizations such as Doctors Without Borders are working to implement vaccine centers in the refugee camps. For example, in 2013, “MSF teams have completed a preventive cholera vaccination campaign in and around the refugee camps in Maban County, South Sudan. Hoping to prevent the spread of the potentially fatal disease, staff vaccinated 105,000 refugees in four camps and 27,500 other residents of the area” (MSF, 2013). It is important to recognize challenges, and then know how to respond effectively.

For example,

“The logistical difficulty of this [cholera] vaccination campaign highlights the need for further development of more field-adapted vaccines,” says Dr. Jennifer Cohn, medical director for MSF’s Access Campaign. “While it is helpful that the vaccine is an oral administration, which assists in the ease of its administration, it comes in one dose per vial and must be kept in a cold chain, which means the sheer bulk and logistics of supplying some 290,000 doses makes using this vaccine challenging in locations where it may have the greatest benefit. The vaccine also must be given in two doses, at least 14 days apart. Ensuring both doses are given is difficult in situations of disaster or with mobile populations. A formulation that can be packaged in multi-dose vials and can be used without strict cold chain would greatly improve the logistical challenges of such important vaccination activities. Further, the price is an issue. If the cost could be reduced, that would further increase the scope for widespread use of the vaccine” (MSF, 2013).

Moreover, along with fighting diseases, there should also be health professionals to deal with mental health. These mental health experts should also be staffed at the camp–and given proper resources–to help deal with issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.

In addition, in order to ensure security, there needs to not only be sufficient authority presence, but also effective communication between different actors. An effective hierarchy of authority allows people to not only do their jobs, but better communicate with their superiors about any problems that may have arisen at the refugee camps (McClelland, 2014). It is important to focus on prevention, as well as coordination efforts, in order to ensure that sexual and gender based violence does not take place in the refugee camps (UNHCR, 2014a). This can be done a few ways. Namely, “

“At the service-provider level, SGBV actors offer training to build the capacity of police, border patrols and other stakeholders to support SGBV survivors. SGBV actors in Jordan also work to mitigate the risk of SGBV by, for example, undertaking safety surveys of camp and non-camp sites, operating a protection monitoring system and other concrete measures to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian assistance does not create risks of SGBV across other sectors. Mainstreaming of SGBV prevention measures include a 24-hour presence of male and female protection staff in Zaatari camp, consideration of SGBV risk factors in planning of camp sites and shelters, installation and maintenance of lighting in camps to ensure safer access to the water and sanitation facilities – especially for women and girls – at night, and segregation at distribution points” (UNHCR, 2014a).

Alternatives to Refugee Camps

Given the conditions in a refugee camp, practitioners have looked for ways to offer alternatives to refugee camps. Again, refugee camps are necessary and quite critical for the health and safety of those who have had to leave their home countries. However, international organizations (such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is always looking for other alternatives to refugee camps for people. The reason for this is that while there are of course many benefits that are offered at refugee camps, as we mentioned above in our discussion comparing refugee camps to settlements, refugees have less freedom and less overall quality standards of living in a refugee camp.

As the UNHCR (2014) explains, “UNHCR’s experience has been that camps can have significant negative impacts over the longer term for all concerned. living in camps can engender dependency and weaken the ability of refugees to manage their own lives, which perpetuates the trauma of displacement and creates barriers to solutions, whatever form they take. camps can also distort local economies and development planning, while also causing negative environmental impacts in the surrounding area. in some contexts, camps may increase critical protection risks, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), child protection concerns and human trafficking. camps may not either contribute to security, where they become venue for the forced recruitment or indoctrination of refugees” (4).

Thus, the UNHCR attempts to move individuals out of refugees as quickly as can be. They do understand the difficulties of this, of course. They often try to find ways to integrate refugees in other countries, and in ways that they can contribute to the economy and society. The idea often for organizations establishing and operating refugee camps is to tie the camp to local situations (economic, other aspects of civil society) so that, over time, there is a shift from refugee camps “into sustainable settlements” (6).

For UNCHR (2014), this specific approach is what they call their “Urban Refugee Policy.” The idea is not only to integrate the refugee camp into society, but the objective is to do so while assuring that refugees are become less reliant on the refugee camp model, and instead are better able to gain more independence.

They are attempting to do this by working with local communities, refugees, and international actors, fostering dialogue and cooperation efforts to better integrate refugees into society, and thus, away from the refugee camps. They work on issues related to human rights, rule of law, economic prospects, education, among other issues.  For example, UNHCR highlights a number of approaches needed so that refugee camps and refugees become integrated in society. They call for:

  • The promotion of an effective and supportive environment where refugees can live, move, and work freely
  • The need for advocacy strategies to ensure that the government is working to its full capability in proving support for the refugee communities.
  • Contingency Planning along with Emergency Preparedness is essential for the longevity of a healthy community. Actors must create an effective plan to deal with any emergency situations that might arise in the community. Some of the activities that fall under this category include the need “to facilitate alternatives to camps, including an assessment of national legal and policy frameworks, the capacity of communities and the local economy, infrastructure, administrative structures, service delivery systems, housing, land, water and the key interventions that will be needed to absorb a refugee influx, working together with government authorities at all levels and the potential of host communities” (UNHCR, 2014: 10).
  • Intertwine local and national development plans is also very important. Here, local actors, and refugee camp coordinators must work with the state, and vice versa, to ensure the most up to date and effective policies for this urban refugee policy. By exchanging ideas and working together, the hope is that progress will be made on a variety of development indicators such as employment, health, and education.
  • Data Planning and Analysis is also very important to ensure that the refugee communities’ needs are being met when it comes to health or other social services.
  • Effective Program Management to monitor the levels of effectiveness related to this transition to the urban refugee policy.
  • Community Based-Protection allows refugee camp coordinators to work with local communities, being able to respond to any challenges or concerns raised by the refugees.
  • Service Delivery of needed basic resources are needed. The UNHCR (2014) argues that providing services “in areas such as education, public health, nutrition, water and sanitation to support alternatives to camps and needs of refugees living in host communities through mainstreaming within national, local and community-based systems and structures and the further development of new models and approaches, such as the use of mobile teams, enhanced referral mechanisms, enrolment of refugees in health insurance schemes, expanded access to distance learning programmes and the greater use of cash-based interventions” (11).
  • Providing Shelter is essential as one makes the transition from refugee camps to more long-term communities. Thus, refugee workers aim to provide sufficient and sustainable shelter for those in their urban refugee policy. For this point to be realized, it becomes important to work with local law officials to better understand issues of housing, as well as property rights. As UNCHR (2015a) explains elsewhere, “Refugees might live on land or housing which they rent, own or occupy informally, or they may have private hosting arrangements. Such alternatives typically allow refugees to exercise their rights and freedoms, make meaningful choices about issues affecting their lives, contribute to their community and live with greater dignity and independence.”
  • Sustainable Livelihoods is related to the other points, and here, organizations call for the assurance that individuals have sustainable lives as it pertains to health, safety, education, and skills training and knowledge acquisition that can help them with employment prospects.
  • Mobility is another important part of the urban refugee policy. Given the limited mobility in refugee camps, mobility initiatives aim “to allow refugees greater access to employment and education and possibilities to build their livelihoods assets and skills and to send remittances, including through regional frameworks that facilitate the movement of labour, in order to promote dignity, the enjoyment of basic rights and to ensure that refugees are better prepared to achieve durable solutions” (11).
  • Working with national government officials on safety will also make for a better transition for refugees. One of the biggest concerns is security, and having police and other authorities coordinated with refugee camp officials and local individuals to improve the security situation wold leave to more safe conditions for refugees.
  • The importance of partnerships is a consistent thread in many of the urban policy objectives. Effective partnerships with refugees, local communities, national governments, other authorities, as well as international actors such as governments, international organizations, and other other human rights and humanitarian non-governmental organizations will lead to the best and most effective policies and responses for refugees.

There are other resources that can help urban refugees reach the goals and strategies listed above. As we see in the videos below, here are some examples (from places such as Uganda) where activists and NGOs are working to ensure that some of the objectives above are being met, so that the transition for urban refugees is a smooth one.

While it is tough to know when a complete transition between refugee camps and permanent settlements have occurred, the UNCHR (2014) says that “Alternatives to camps are achieved when UNHCR is able to ensure that refugees are protected and assisted effectively and are able to achieve solutions without resorting to the establishment of camps and when existing camps are phased out or transformed into sustainable settlements. From the perspective of refugees, alternatives to camps means being able to exercise rights and freedoms, make meaningful choices regarding their lives and have the possibility to live with greater dignity, independence and normality as members of communities” (12).


As we see, there are many issues that need to be death with to ensure effective operations during in a refugee camp. It is important to not only learn about the different challenges, but to also work with different actors to address every single problem that can arise in the refugee camps.

Refugee Camp References

CNN (2015). Cholera outbreak threatens world’s largest refugee camps. December 19, 2015. Available Online: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/19/africa/cholera-kenya-refugee-camp/

Good Practices for Urban Refugees (2015). Learning Programme. Available Online: http://www.urbangoodpractices.org/learningprogramme/index/lang:eng

McClelland, M. (2014). How Build a Perfect Refugee Camp. New York Times, February 13, 2014.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (2013). Preventing Cholera in South Sudan’s Remote Refugee Camps. February 24, 2013. Available Online: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news-stories/field-news/preventing-cholera-south-sudans-remote-refugee-camps

Schmidt, A. (ND). Forced Migration. Available Online: http://www.forcedmigration.org/research-resources/expert-guides/camps-versus-settlements/fmo021.pdf

Stanton Russell, S. (2002). Refugees: Risks and Challenges Worldwide. Migrationpolicy.org. Available Online: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/refugees-risks-and-challenges-worldwide

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2014a). Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: Syrian Refugees in Jordan. Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Sub-Working Group. March 2014.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2014b). UNHCR Policy on Alternatives to Camps, pages 1-12. Available Online: http://www.unhcr.org/5422b8f09.html

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2015a). Alternatives to Camps. Available Online: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/54d9c7686.html

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2015b). Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp turns three, challenges for the future of thousands living there. UNHCR. Available Online: http://www.unhcr.org/55b7737b6.html

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2015). Mid-Year Trends, June 2015. Available Online: http://www.unhcr.org/56701b969.html

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