Field notes, perspectives, stories & updates from IAFR's work in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
Kakuma refugee camp was established in response to a massive influx of Sudanese refugees into Kenya back in 1992.
I remember my first visit to Kakuma back in 2000 and hearing that its official capacity was for 78,000 people. The camp population has more than tripled in size since then. Today it is host to 250,000 people - most of whom are women and children.
Since it was founded, Kakuma has grown into a network of refugee camps and settlements with names like Kakuma 1, 2, 3, 4 and Kalobeyei 1, 2, 3. While visiting earlier this month, a government official told me that they are now planning to build two more refugee camps in the Kakuma area.
Kakuma is located in remote northwestern Kenya - near its border with Uganda and South Sudan. The region is a semi desert and not conducive to supporting a metropolis. The climate is a harsh semi desert. The little rain the region normally receives has repeatedly failed in recent years. Boreholes are failing. Water is rationed - both in the camp and in the NGO compound of the camp. Adding more people to this already overwhelmed ecosystem seems like a recipe for a humanitarian disaster.
Meanwhile, the people living in the camp are far from home with little control over their uncertain futures. As the reasons for their having fled their homes and homelands have not been resolved, they can't go back. Many people have called the camp "home" for decades - for the thousands born in the camp, it is the only home they've ever known. To what home are they to return?
Few refugees are given the option of staying on permanently and integrating into life in Kenya. This is not because Kenya is not a hospitable country. The country rightly fears it cannot integrate so many people into its fragile economy.
The world offers the people of Kakuma only one other way out of the camp - refugee resettlement to countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, etc. But less than 1% of the global refugee population (33.1 million) is resettled in any given year. It is probably easier to win the lottery than it is to be chosen for resettlement.
So the people are stuck and the camp grows. It grows as people raise families there. It grows as conflict zones and persecution continue to drive new people out of their homelands into Kenya.
Last I knew, there are around 30 international humanitarian agencies (NGOs) working with UNHCR in Kakuma to help the people survive. Food is rationed. Water is rationed. Firewood is rationed. Shelters are made of sun dried mud bricks. Schools are overcrowded (I've seen classrooms with 180 pupils and one teacher with only a broken blackboard and a couple of textbooks). Malaria, typhoid, cholera, and many other diseases plague the people who live in a state of toxic uncertainty and stress.
And that is why IAFR is partnering with refugee churches in Kakuma. These faith communities play an absolutely critical role in keeping hope alive. But it isn't easy.
I sensed a prevailing weariness while in the camp this month. The children, women, and men who have found refuge there need our prayers. The NGO staff serving them do too. And please don't forget to include the refugee churches of Kakuma in your prayers.
IAFR has been serving people in Kakuma refugee camp since 2010. About 195,000 people (mostly women and children) have found temporary refuge here from war, persecution and gross violations of human rights.
We visit Kakuma 2-3 times annually, during which time this blog is most active.
Visit the Kakuma page on the IAFR.org website to learn more!
We partner with United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC) - a refugee initiated association of over 160 churches from within the camp and surrounding host community.
We also partner with National Council of Churches Kenya (NCCK), an exceptional humanitarian agency.
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