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Location Kakuma, Kenya

This article provides an overview of social issues in Kakuma refugee camp as reported by Idi Yusufu (2021),[1] a refugee and resident of Kakuma.

Kakuma refugee camp, located in Turkana County, Kenya, is one of the largest refugee camps in the world. It hosts both refugees and Kenyan nationals who are running businesses in the camp, including the host community of Turkana people who have either married refugees or have been fostered by refugees.

This article gives an overview of social issues that are widespread in the camp, and also discusses strategies and solutions for alleviating such issues.

Organization of the camp[edit | edit source]

Kakuma has been divided into four main camps, starting from Kakuma one and two. Kakuma four is the most recent camp that was founded after South Sudan war in the year 2013. It hosted refugees mainly from the Nuer tribes.

Each part of Kakuma's four camps is divided again into zones and blocks. The block is the smallest unit that is managed by block leaders. In turn, the leaders are elected by the community members. Block leaders represent the voice of the fellow refugees in agency meetings.

In each part of the four camps, the camps are divided again into zones and blocks. The blocks are the smallest region that is managed by block leaders. And the leaders are elected by the community members. Block leaders represent the voice of the fellow refugees in agency meetings.

The greatest challenge is that in the camp, many of the block leaders are illiterate, and they mostly find it hard to express themselves in English. Below are some of the essential services offered in the camp, including the challenges that refugees undergo in the camp.

Refugee economy and food rations[edit | edit source]

In Kakuma refugee camp, refugees receive monthly food rations that are normally distributed at the beginning of each month. The amount of food that each refugee receives depends on the number of family members. The total quantity each refugee receives is around 5 kg. This is the food one has to eat for the whole month. In the content of the food that refugees receive, sorghum is around 3 kg, yellow peas (which have been common since 20 years ago) 0.5 kg, wheat 1.5 kg, and cooking oil is 0.5 liter. All this is for one person per month.

Recently, the World Food Programme introduced a cash transfer program which is commonly known as Baba Chakula to the refugees in the new settlement scheme called Kalobeyei. It is situated around 5 kilometers from Kakuma refugee camp, the main camp of the Kakuma complex. Also, the same project was started in Kakuma refugee camp, which involves the transfer of a total sum of USD $5 for people who are classified as size one on their ration cards. This amount of food is never enough, even when given in the presence of the senior protection officer, among others. This condition forces many refugees to get other kinds of jobs from the fellow refugees who better off than them.

Many refugees are forced to share food, more so the young unaccompanied minors from South Sudan. Everyone goes to collect food, and then they combine it so that it becomes better, and they can plan how to spend food until next month's food will be distributed. They eat once a day, typically in the evening at 4 PM every single day. This is usually possible during schooldays, but during the holidays it is a great challenge. They even end up stealing to survive.

For young ladies, because they may need sanitary pads, some of them decide to practice cheap prostitution with the national staff so that they gain little favors, like USD $20 to USD $40, for them to stay clean. The reason why ladies do such illicit practices is that the NGO that distributes the sanitary materials, which include soap and underwear, are offered 2 or 3 times a month. Once they receive, it is never enough.

Refugees receive firewood for cooking food from LOKADO, one of the new local NGOs for the Turkana community. They distribute firewood about every 4 months. The quantity of the firewood would not last one month. This has resulted in women from the Sudanese community going to very dangerous areas to look for firewood. Some even wait for the day that the seasonal river flows, so they would go get a truck that is being carried away by water. This case has resulted in too many women and children losing their lives in either being raped or being carried away by the water.

From the hardship that refugees undergo in the camp every single day, many are women are striving to make ends meet. The food and water aid that is freely provided is never enough. It is generally known by both the agency that distributes food items and the beneficiaries who are the refugees that most of the time, the food that they are provided mostly gets finished in ten days before the next scheduled distribution. This is the biggest challenge that around 90 to 95% if the families go through every single month. The hardest question is where to find food after the rations are finished. Many families also sell the food away depending on various reasons. Many ethnic groups in the Equatorial community, which includes the Acholi, Lotuho, Lopit, Didinga, and Karamojang, are heavily addicted to the illicit alcohol that is locally prepared with the community. Around 80% of the above-mentioned tribes consume alcohol, and 90% are jobless and also illiterate. They sell food and use the money to buy alcohol. When they sell this food, their children usually remain without food. This is the reason you will find many children of the tribes mentioned above with malnutrition and not going to school.

The conditions listed above are not the same for all individuals and communities. Among communities like Somalis, the majority of them do not depend on the food rations that are usually distributed monthly. A good number of the Somali and the Ethiopian refugees, specifically the Amhara, sell the food that they receive and go buy food that they value and prefer.

Many families from the DR Congo, Somali and South Sudanese communities, especially the Dinka and the Nuer, around 50% of this community members receives remittances from their relatives that are already abroad. Sometimes back in the camp, men in the Dinka community they pay bride prices of around 2 to 3 million Kenyan shillings. This money is usually given both in cash in the camp and also outside the camp. For such communities, they do not have problems with food or any basic needs in the camp.

The reason as to why today, in many universities in Canada like British Colombia, many people are Dinkas from South Sudan is simply because many of the Dinka invest much of the bride price they received so that they could get an education. They take the school-going children to good schools outside the camp in places like Kitale, Eldoret, and Nairobi. There, many South Sudanese are well off and at the same time are registered refugees. After they complete their secondary education, they come to compete with the other refugees for the scholarships that are offered by the UNHCR as resettlement to Canada. Most of the time, they get the chance due to their good performance at national schools in Kenya.

Many DR Congolese families are in the camp because they have been connected by their relatives who have previously left from the camp to abroad, and they come to repeat the same process in hopes of being resettled abroad. Out of the 100% of the DR Congolese refugees in the camp, 95% of the families and the individual will always claim that they left their home country because of family conflicts, such as between siblings. The dispute could be a natural resource like land. Logically, such cases will never be rejected. From what many have said, they have solved all their belongings and come to Kakuma, and they are sure that they will be satisfied only if they will be given resettlement to abroad. The majority of the DR Congolese will never have any problems with food and other basic needs like clothing, because they run big businesses in and outside the camp. This is seen from the way of life they live in the camp.

Refugee security inside and outside the camp[edit | edit source]

Refugee security in and of the camp is not guaranteed. In the camp, many cases of insecurity have been reported, including ladies being raped when going to collect firewood, or coming from food ration collection from Kakuma 3. From Kakuma 1 along Don Bosco Langaa (a seasonal river between Kakuma 1 and Kakuma 2), there have been cases of refugees being attacked by Turkana locals. Sometimes there are rumors that the police attack refugees who are reported to have received huge amount of money from relatives or are businessman in the camp. This information is most of the time said to have come from the refugees themselves, who then leak information to either other locals or the police so that they could come attack their fellow refugees.

In the most recent scenario that had just happened in the camp in 2021, a Somali refugee family in Kakuma one was reported to have been attacked by a group of local bandits. They walked away with an unknown amount of money and also raped a young girl together with the mother. This case created a conflict between the Somali and the Turkana communities for a whole day. The Somali community chairman said in his statement that they must take revenge by killing one of the Turkana members for them to feel more compensated. The security of Kakuma was interfered with for the whole day until the Kenyan police had to intervene between the two communities.

The other problem that is creating insecurity in the camp is the police entering the camp and arresting refugees without unspecified reason. This is always common in the camp. Refugees are forced to pay a fixed USD $100 for them to be released. If this is not paid, the person is going to be sent to court, and the fingerprint to be taken to the Criminal Investigation Department. This is always terrible for refugees who are undergoing the resettlement process or are hoping to get one. If one has ever been arrested, one can never be accepted as an American, since they will not make it to the INS (a required part of the process). When any refugee is arrested, they are always threatened to have their fingerprints taken. Every time, the individuals arrested and their family or community members strive to make sure they contribute for one community member to be freed.

The last case of insecurity in the camp is motorcyclists being arrested for unknown reasons. Many refugee youths find it easy to be bodaboda (motorcycle-taxi) drivers, because it is the easiest and available job that one will find as soon as you arrive in the camp. When a refugee is arrested along the road, they are always asked to produce a motorbike license and the identification document which is not easy for any refugee to have and if you can't produce the document, you have to pay an instant amount of money that will be requested which is never bellow USD $50. And if you do not comply with the order, you will be arrested and will end up paying more than the initial amount that they have requested. The truth about refugees is that they are not given any document that will help them acquire a license. But still even after the police are informed about this, they are told to comply or else they will face the consequences.

Refugee identification[edit | edit source]

When a refugee arrives in the camp, they are registered as a refugee, and then the other process is followed according to the procedure of UNHCR. At the end of it all, refugees receive an identification card from the office of the refugee camp, and this document is called a refugee certificate. This card is normally expected to cater to some legal function like opening bank accounts, SIM card registration, and even logbook registration. But this is never the truth after documents are received. Many refugees in the camp have to register their SIM card with the Kenyan national SIM card system, because Safaricom does not consider the refugee's identity card as a genuine card for SIM registration.

The problem usually comes after Safaricom, a mobile communication company, blocks all SIM cards that registered under one Kenyan identification card. This problem usually affects refugees in particular.

Education[edit | edit source]

Education in the camp is freely provided by many NGOs that are available in the camp. These include the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Windle International Kenya (WIK), and Don Bosco for both vocational and professional courses. There are Swiss contacts for both professional and vocational course. In the camp, they offer primary, secondary, and even university education. All this is provided with the help of the Kenyan government, and thus refugees learn the Kenyan curriculum education, which is known as the 8-4-4 system of education.

Refugees from Francophone nations find it hard to keep up with the education that is offered in Kenya refugee camp. Many adults between the of 17 to 20 do not go on with education in Kenya because the change in curriculum and the language make it hard for them to continue with the education. Most of this these young people indulge in drug abuse, and there is a high rate of unwanted pregnancies.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a faith-based organization that is leading in the provision of basic education to all the refugee schoolchildren and interested adults from all age brackets. The organization started to run the education program in the camp in 1992, including other essential programs that are of greater demand to refugees, like the provision of water, distribution of food rations, peacebuilding, and gender issues.

Refugees go through the normal education like other Kenyans. In spite of the challenges they go through both around the camp and back at home, they still compete with the Kenyan students all over Kenya for the position of both secondary and university space in the government schools. In the camp, the majority of the students at all levels are the South Sudanese. This is because the South Sudanese come from war-torn areas, where they have had no chance to obtain formal education. This is why there are 40-year-old primary learners.

Currently, the Lutheran World Federation is handling pre-school and primary education in the camp, while Windle International Kenya (WIK) handles secondary school and post-secondary school education. After primary education, which normally takes eight years, pupils sit for the end-year exam and then proceed to secondary education. The exam fee is paid to the Kenyans government by UNHCR. In secondary school, many refugee students find it hard to proceed with the education and even fail to perform better.

Don Bosco is among other above-mentioned companies that provide both professional and vocational training for the refugees and the host community offer course like plumbing, electrical, tailoring, and many other courses. For refugees that are qualified to join university, Windle International Kenya and the Danish Refugee Council provide the refugees with diploma and degrees in the local universities in Kenya.

Refugee movement[edit | edit source]

The camp manager is the head of the refugees in the camp in terms of either movement, or housing relocation of refugees and non-refugees inside the camp and outside the camp. Ideally, refugees are not allowed to move outside the camp as soon as they have been received in the camp. For a refugee to be allowed to move outside the camp, they undergo a lot of procedures, which include vetting by the panel of officer in the office of the camp manager. Still, it is not guaranteed that the person is going to be given a document to travel with what is known as a travel document.

In the camp, there could be the various reasons that could drive refugees to travel out of the camp. Common reasons include education, medication, weddings, and even family visits. Refugees could receive their relatives from abroad, and they would maybe want to meet in Nairobi or Kampala, Uganda, but the camp manager would not allow the family to meet. In this case, the family will be forced to use an alternative means to get to the destination. This could be either using corruption to get their way out of the camp by giving some money to some of the employees of the camp manager, or to go to the traffic police and pay a bribe of USD $10-$20 for them to leave the camp.

The other option that refugees could use to move out of the camp is through faking of the travel document that is only provided by the camp manager. Some people use computers to make a fake document that is not easily detected by the Kenyan police at the roadblock. This fake travel document is sold USD $30 by the people who create them. They end up faking even the stamp of the office of the camp manager.

Recently, like three months ago, the UNHCR had taken the initiative of vetting refugees before allowing them to leave the camp. This has reduced the rate of refugees moving out of the camp. But still, the rate of corruption has increased, because many refugees use police vehicles that will be taking them to Lodwar, which is about 110 kilometers away from the camp. Once they reach Lodwar, refugees will be able to board a car to their next destination.

Employment in the camp[edit | edit source]

In Kakuma refugee camp, there many organizations that are offering employment opportunities in the camp for both the refugees and the host community. There are some jobs that are meant for refugees, and some that are meant for the national staff, and others for the host community.

Refugees are employed in jobs like cleaners, teachers, interpreters, and many other minor jobs. When refugees arrive in the camp, they learn the English language so that they could secure a job in the camp. This is mostly a problem for refugees from the DR Congo, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and even South Sudan. They may have gone to school in their country of origin, but they might have not learned English, which creates a need for refugees that are ready to secure a job in the camp but have to learn the language.

In the camp, all the refugees who are working in the NGOs in the camp are paid monthly incentives (salaries) that range between 3,000 to 15,000 Kenyan shillings. The different organizations pay differently depending on their policies and the UNHCR policy. The salary of a teacher in the camp is 7,500 Kenyan shillings, while that of a cleaner is 3,000 Kenyan shillings. A security man earns 3,500 to 4,500 shillings depending on the organization in the camp. Some organization pay higher than others because of different donors that they have.

A few months ago, two of the new organizations in the camp have introduced higher incentive payments than other organizations. These are Relay, which deals with information sharing using a special mobile app, and the Kenyan Red Cross. They pay their staff 13,000 Kenyan shillings and 15,000 Kenyan shillings respectively.

One thing that is very disappointing in the camp is that no organization employs or pays its staff according to education or experience. All refugees, are including the ones with degrees, are paid the same amount of money.

Another source of employment in the camp is to become a private businessman. Both the refugees and the Kenyans employ refugees to work in their businesses, like loaders and clerks. Refugees who are rich are mostly the Somalis, who employ other fellow refugees. The host community employs refugees in jobs like washing clothes and fetching water for them. Surprisingly, the refugee Somali businessmen pay their employees better than the NGOs that employ the refugees.

Idleness and drug abuse in the camp[edit | edit source]

In Kakuma refugee camp, many of the refugees are idle or unemployed in the camp. This is because the majority of the populations of the refugees are either illiterate, or the education they got is not from an Anglophone country. Besides of the reasons listed above, the majority also lack capital to start a business, while others lack skills that can create work.

Due to the above challenges, refugees in the camp spend more of their time with drugs and substance abuse, like Changaa, Busaa, Mogokhaa (a type of Miraa/Khat), Kuber, tobacco, and marijuana. Some of the mentioned drugs are locally brewed by the refugees, while others are imported from both outside the camp but within Kenya, and others are brought from Uganda.

Refugees from different nationalities have embraced their local drugs that they have been using back home, and they brew it in the camp. Some of these alcohols are cheaply produced in the camp, and this has also affected the Turkana community.

The Turkana community has fully been affected by the rampant use of alcohol that is brewed by the Equatorial community, a South Sudanese community in the camp. These communities live in an area of the camp that they have called Bagdad. Bagdad is one area in the camp where young and old refugees from almost all the community meet to consume locally brewed alcohol. This is a place many young people are said to contract deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, among others. This is because many of the people that indulge in such activities are normally driven by alcohol, and many are sick.

The Somali refugees in the camp prefer to use Mirra and Bhang, which is known as Hashish in the Somali language. These are the commonly used drugs that are used and sold by the Somali people in the camp. Eevery community in the camp has a drug that they prefer over the others, because it is best accepted by the community. For example, a parent from the Didinga community will prefer his/her son or daughter use Changa'a than Mirra, because they find it not used by many of their people. While the Somali parent will not find it very bad when s/he finds their son using Mirra, it is very dangerous to find a Somali using Changa'a. S/he may even be punished to death.

Mental health[edit | edit source]

Refugees in Kakuma refugee camp are often considered to be traumatized due to the kind of lives they have undergone in their home countries, as well as by also the current conditions in the camp. Refugees from the Great Lakes and a few from other communities are considered to have lived good lives in their country of origin. Some of them been politicians, and other have been working with the government and other international non-governmental organization. But coming into the camp, they have very different and difficult living conditions, which could result in them developing mental illnesses.

Most of the refugees from Ethiopia find it had to adapt to the conditions in the camp, thus leading to many Ethiopians committing suicide. Since 2002, Ethiopians have recorded a large number of suicides and others develop symptoms of mental illness. In the camp, most of the time when visitors and donors arrive in the camp to see the progress of the camp, including the current situation of the camp, the UNHCR staff give an orientation to the visitors in Nairobi, informing them that refugees are hostile individuals who can even kill. The only request that refugees can make is a personal request for resettlement and money; if not given to them, they may turn out to be very hostile. However, these strategies are actually designed to present the donors from collecting actual data from the beneficiaries.

Many NGOs have services offering psychological support to the refugees in the camp; these include the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

There are many refugees that have spent more than 20 years in the camp, and they do not see any hope ahead of them. To make matters worse, they become envious when they see people come back from abroad with good lives. This happens when they are in the camp spending their time in the UNHCR compound, or seeing the new arrivals who come recently after getting resettled abroad, leaving them behind without hope.

Conflicts among refugee communities[edit | edit source]

In Kakuma refugee camp, intercommunity conflict has often been reported among communities in the camp. Reasons include inadequate resources and cultural differences among different communities.

The most common conflict that creates total conflict is the South Sudanese conflict between the Nuer and the Dinka. This could either be due to sports, or women and love relationships. For a Nuer or a Dinka, they believe ladies are resources, and once interfered with, it could result in fights in which an individual could lose life. Many young people have lost their lives in these kinds of cases.

Long-term solutions for refugees[edit | edit source]

In Kakuma refugee camp, refugees are entitled to three long-term solutions, which include resettlement, repatriation, and integration into another host country (which is managed by UNCHR officers). In the camp, refugees are categorised into three different groups, including refugees, asylum seekers, and the prima facie.

Resettlement[edit | edit source]

Different communities undergo different procedures before being recognized as refugees in the camp. for the Great Lakes refugees, including DR Congolese, Burundians, and Rwandese, undergo an interview process to determine whether they are eligible to be given a mandate that will be used to offer them resettlement process. Meanwhile, the South Sudanese and the Somali are automatically gain refugee status when they arrive in the camp. This is because South Sudan and Somalia are known to be in wars for years, with many seeking refuge in Kenya. The last group of people in the camp are the refugees that have stayed in the camp since 1992 to date. They did not undergo any process of verification. They got automatic refugee status, but 98% of them are not entitled to resettlement.

Resettlement to another country is the only hope for almost any refugee in Kakuma refugee camp. This is because many who have left Kakuma for the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and many other countries that receive refugees, come back to the camp, inspiring others who will then hope to get the same chance. Because it is a chance that is not easily secured, refugees and some of the UNHCR staff have collaborated in corruption schemes so that they can benefit from each other.

In 2017, a large number of staff lost their jobs after many refugees were conned, as they were offered fake embassy letters stating that they have been accepted as refugees. After a few months of no progress of the fake resettlement, many refugees disclosed the corruption that took place between them and some of the known UNHCR staff. This case was followed up by a senior UNHCR Protection Officer by the name of Inge Dela Gee. She was threatened to be killed since she had received the full evidence of the corruption scheme, in which many of the Kenyan national staff were being investigated. The refugees from DR Congo and Somalia were the ones that involved themselves in the corruption case, and this is because the two communities are the ones who appear to be more desperate for resettlement.

Repatriation[edit | edit source]

The second long-term solution for the refugees is repatriation back to the country of origin, and this is often actually practiced. Many refugees from Burundi and Somalia have been repatriated back to their home countries. Many Somali refugees are repatriated to their country after a family of maybe 10 decided to go back home. They receive USD $100 that is given per head of each family, and then they take the cash and send one of the family members to go to Europe via Libya. Many end up dying in the desert. All this is using the money that the UN gives the family to build their lives.

Integration[edit | edit source]

The last long-term solution in the camp is integration in Kenya. Many refugees who are prima facie do not get resettlement, so they been requesting for a chance of integration to be Kenyan. However, they face many difficulties with paperwork. Few have been offered an opportunity to be integrated. This chance of integration is highly demanded by people from Rwanda and Burundi, including the families that have intermarried with the locals or the Kenyans. About 4% of the refugees have intermarried with either the Turkana or Kenyans from other parts of the country, when the people have children with Kenyans. Sometimes Kenyan men marry refugees and have children that undergo problems with identification. This is because the UNHCR will not either identify such families as refugees, and the Kenyan government also does not recognize them as refugees. This has resulted in identity crises, and also a situation in which many refugees have stayed in the camp for more than 25 years.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Yusufu, Idi. 2021. Social issues in Kakuma refugee camp. Kakuma, Kenya.
  • The full text of Yusufu (2021) is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0. While everyone is free to copy, redistribute, and adapt the content for both non-commercial and commercial use, attribution should be given to the original author and/or source.
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Keywords refugees, refugee camp
Authors Bandicoot
License CC-BY-SA-4.0
Language English (en)
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Impact 232 page views
Created April 23, 2022 by Bandicoot
Modified June 9, 2023 by Felipe Schenone
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