Kakuma Refugee Camp

The Kakuma refugee camp was established in 1991 and is located near the border between Kenya and South Sudan adjacent to Lake Turkana. It is administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and falls under the jurisdiction of the Kenyan government. Kakuma, meaning “nowhere” in Swahili, occupies a dry, desolate land with few trees.

In July 2017 after some difficulty, a team from Seeds of South Sudan received permission from Refugee Assistance Services to visit the camp. They met with the camp director, David Mgatia. He informed Seeds that 171,000 people live within Kakuma 1-5 regions. Nearly three fourths of the refugees – 71 percent– are from South Sudan. More than 800 South Sudanese, primarily women and children, were arriving each week.

Kakuma has distinct communities and local ethnic groups look after orphans from their home area. The SoSS visit was to Kakuma 1, established in 1992, and from where over 3,000 original lost boys including Arok Garang left for their new lives in the U.S in 2001. Friday July 21st was hot and muggy, as Kakuma had received its first rain in two years.

Watch this video of the Seeds team entering the camp and interviewing the students: here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5Kv9F1XJRM

The SoSS team of three met with young students, all desperate for the same things that the original Lost Boys longed for: peace, freedom, and an education. They interviewed 46 students and stayed for their meal of the day. The World Food Program provides one meal, a bowl of beans, each day. Because of the continuing influx of new refugees, WFP has had to cut rations even further to beans and sorghum for that single meal.

Those with some education try to teach the younger ones, but class sizes can exceed 400. It is no place to build a future. That is why Seeds of South Sudan has been working since 2008 to raise funds to pay for the education of South Sudanese orphans in boarding schools in Kenya.


Life in Kakuma

Life in the semi-arid desert environment of Kakuma is challenging. The area has always been full of problems: dust storms, high temperatures, poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions, outbreaks of malaria, cholera, and other hardships. The average daytime temperature is 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The camp is a “small city” of thatched roof huts, tents, and mud abodes. Living inside the camp is equally prison and exile. Once admitted, refugees do not have freedom to move about the country but are required to obtain Movement Passes from the UNHCR and Kenyan Government. “Essentially, the refugees are confined to the Kakuma camp area; they are not allowed to move freely outside of it, and they may not seek education or employment outside of it” [4]. Inside this small city at the edge of the desert, children age into adulthood and hope fades to resignation. To be quite frank, many refugees are living the lives of hostages.

Due to their legal situation and local environmental conditions, refugees are largely unable to support themselves with income-generating activities. The semi-arid climate of Kakuma is ill-suited to agriculture, while restrictions on employment deter refugee job-seeking. Those who work with NGOs receive a small incentive payment for their work, but incentive staff represent only a fraction of the refugee population. As Arafat Jamal concludes from his evaluation of Kakuma camp, “Anyone confined to a place like Kakuma is rendered automatically dependent on some form of hand-out”. [5]

Works Cited

[1] [2]Fair Observer— http://www.fairobserver.com/article/life-kakuma-refugee-camp

[3] UNHCR Fact Sheet UNHCR Branch Office Nairobi. http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/KakumaCampPopulation_20160530.pdf

Jamal, Arafat (2000). Minimum standards and essential needs in a protracted refugee situation: A review of the UNHCR programme in Kakuma, Kenya. UNHCR Evaluation and Policy Unit/2000/05.

[4] Jamal 2000, p. 7-8

[5] Jamal 2000, p. 23


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