DADAAB, Kenya — In response to the thousands of Somali citizens driven across the Kenyan-Somali border, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has set up three adjacent refugee camps in the Kenyan city of Dadaab.
Built to shelter 90,000 people, these camps are now home to over 400,000. For years, there has simply been no more room. An estimated 130,000 arrivals now live without adequate shelter. Many who come settle on the border of the camps, a move local farmers call invasive.
The UNHCR and its partners estimate 20 liters of water are needed per person, per day. They can provide only 13. More than 1,000 children suffer from severe malnutrition, yet there are no nutrition nurses on hand. In 2010, there were a grand total of eight doctors in residence. Of 200,000 children, 70 percent are not attending school. Violence, especially against women, is widespread.
Overcrowding, political tension, lack of supplies and health care, too little education, too much crime; here are concretely shown the hallmarks of today’s refugee camps.
And here is nearly the opposite; earlier this year, NY Times reporter Mac McClelland wrote on Kilis, a Turkish refugee camp near the Syrian-Turkish border. It was built in 2012, one year after the first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey. It has been compared to a five-star hotel.
Not only are there functioning, modern outhouses, there are sanitation workers. Houses are not tents but (perhaps even less fortunately named) ‘containers.’ If a little lacking in character, they are clean and excellent protection from the elements.
Several schools, employing both Turkish and Syrian staff, educate more than 2,000 Syrian children. There are playgrounds and activity centers. Using debit cards given by the Turkish government, families shop for food at one of three supermarkets. And best of all, everyone has access to medical clinics and their hospitals.
All these services raise the question of expense, and it is great. Turkey spends over $2 million per month to maintain Kilis alone. The cost fosters resentment among poorer Turkish citizens, who feel that their government is ignoring their plight. There were even rumors of Syrian refugees being granted $1 million a piece.
Whether or not camps like Kilis are sustainable is debatable. But there are several lessons to be learned from Dadaab and Kilis.
Kilis, operating solely under the control of the Turkish government, is a strong testament to administrative cohesion. On Kilis, services are organized and streamlined. In Dadaab and camps like it, with so many organizations working simultaneously, overlaps and gaps in service are inevitable.
Though it is premature to expect individual governments to shoulder the financial burden of a camp like Kilis, Turkey’s involvement should be noted. At the very least, Turkish officers are employed to guard refugees. Kenyan officers are not strongly discouraged from harassing them.
Turkey has expressed and proven a strong sense of responsibility in sheltering refugees. It is now home to over 200,000 Syrian people. There are new arrivals daily, yet all are welcomed.
As one official said, “We’re not going to kick them out … We’re prepared for them to stay for a long time.”
Sources: New York Times, Care, UNHCR