What Do Refugee Camps Really Look Like?
Their homes are destroyed and they have become displaced by the in-fighting of their own country. They need a safe space to protect themselves from the ongoing genocide and persecution. They are starving because of the recent drought and famine occurring in their hometown.
Refugees are needing a new home so they can once again experience the normalcy of peaceful sleep, reliable access to food and friendly interactions with their neighbors.
Refugee Camps Across the Globe
As refugees flee their home to find a safe, new environment to live, they often travel in large groups of people who in search of the same. In addition to travelling alongside a large group, multiple groups often share the same destination. Because of the ongoing Syrian civil crises, Jordan is now home to one of the largest refugee camps called, “Zaatari,” which is home to almost 80,000 refugees inside of a 2 square mile area.
Another example of refugees fleeing to a common area is in the Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei Settlement. These areas began in 1992 and have since grown to hosting an incredible number of refugees and asylum seekers. By June 2015, the number of residents these areas held was 183,000 individuals and it has continued to grow to an astonishing 191,500 refugees and asylum seekers.
These examples show the incredible numbers of refugees who have been forced to live in and create another home outside of their own, and, sadly, they are not extreme outliers when it comes to densely populated refugee camps. The 10 most populated refugee camps in the world have populations of more than 60,000 residents.
With these great amounts of refugees settling in new areas which are oftentimes already occupied by the city’s own residents, the chances of a severely negative economic effect are very high. Existing food and water sources, business opportunities, living spaces and so much more will be affected and, consequently, not provide the necessary amount of support needed to sustain the population.
If all of these individuals are currently living in an overpopulated environment with scarce resources, what do these locations really look like?
Before we see what these refugee camps look like, let's revisit what a refugee camp is.
What Is A Refugee Camp?
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), refugee camps are considered “temporary facilities built to provide immediate protection and assistance to people who have been forced to flee due to conflict, violence or persecution.” When the UNHCR is responding to an emergency crisis, they work with nearby city officials to determine a safe space for these travelling refugees by making sure the location is secure, is habitable for individuals and allows for easy vehicular access in order to drop off needed supplies.
While there are many refugees who end up living in a refugee camp, statistics show 60% of all refugees actually live in cities such as those in urban, Turkish settlements. Even in these situations, refugees are not always better off living in urban contexts rather than in camps.
Life in A Refugee Camp
As one could imagine, refugee camps do not afford many opportunities to their residents. While individuals had prior access to appropriate medical care, properly staffed education institutions and stable employment opportunities, entering a refugee camp often means you’re back at ground zero.
For children, formal educational opportunities are either rare, overpopulated or nonexistent. Thankfully, in Zaatari Camp, education opportunities grew by 3.4% and currently provides around 20,000 children with educational opportunities. Though the staffing may lack, this positive news of children receiving formal education is worth celebrating.
Along with the challenge of providing formal education opportunities, healthcare facilities are also stretched beyond what they can provide. Sickness and injuries inevitably occur among the thousands of residents which causes medical facilities to generally remain overcrowded and leave many residents untreated.
Many refugee camps face the trials of going without their normal provisions from their original home, but there are also some extreme challenges which refugee camps unfortunately face.
When it comes to sanitation services within refugee camps, routine practices often disappear and create horrendous situations. Because of the intense violence and fighting in Myanmar, many have fled to nearby Bangladesh for safety, but face another dire living situation. Overpopulation, along with a myriad of other reasons, has led to improper sanitation practices including using open fields as locations to relieve themselves. Because of this, sickness and disease can become an imminent threat to the entire community.
At another refugee camp in France, one reporter recalled the critical living situation of those refugees. Within the camp, she says, “tents are plagued by rats, water sources contaminated by feces, and inhabitants have been diagnosed with tuberculosis, scabies, and post-traumatic stress.”
There are also numerous accounts of mental health situations throughout the expanse of refugee camps. Because of the horrific violence some of these refugees have seen, they suffer form Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which sometimes leads to suicide attempts, anxiety, depression and much more.
Stories of Hope
Though there are countless stories of heartbreak and despair within refugee camps, we cannot forget about the stories of hope which come from refugees and their temporary home.
In one situation, a Professor of Interior Design from the University of Tennessee studied an existing layout of Zaatari Camp in Jordan which was organized in orderly rows. His proposal to move the residents’ dwellings to better suit their needs resulted in family members living in closer proximity to each other and the layout even created courtyards of activity. In his report, he noted how the new layout “reminded the people of home” and that they had even begun planting vegetable gardens.
Another story comes out of the Dar es Salem refugee camp near Lake Chad in Africa where a man named Barnabas volunteers every day to give children a safe space to play and be kids. To do this, he sets up a rope barrier to warn vehicles of children playing in the area which allows kids to remain playing and be kids.
Life in refugee camps is hard. Moving away from homelands and attempting to create new norms inside these camps are difficult circumstances. New dangers exist, opportunities are limited and life may never be the same, but there is always a glimmer of hope. Families helping other families, teachers leading large classrooms of schoolchildren, volunteers sacrificing their time to create positive change inside camps.Here in the United States, we can also assist those who have gone through the same experiences. At Epimonia, our unique bracelets are created in Minnesota by refugees and made from recycled life vests which were gathered from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Purchase yours today and join in the mission to rebuild humanity piece by piece.