At first sight, the Dadaab refugee camp is nothing more than line after line of mud structures and U.N. tents under a relentless sun. Formed in 1991 to house refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war, it is now a city of nearly half a million people near Kenya’s eastern border. But unlike most cities, Dadaab has been operated by international organizations for almost twenty-five years — and it shows.
With the migrant crisis in the spotlight, it is now time to reimagine the refugee camp.With the migrant crisis in the spotlight, it is now time to reimagine the refugee camp.
Above all else, reform requires the recognition that these sites are here to stay.Above all else, reform requires the recognition that these sites are here to stay. Though initially built for “temporary” humanitarian emergencies, they often persist for years, if not decades. The Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria turned 40 last year. The Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank are over sixty years old. Since these camps offer residents few economic opportunities and no voice in how they’re governed, the issue becomes more than a regrettable temporary inconvenience — it’s a slow-motion human rights disaster.
Today’s refugee camp is rarely a short-term stopover.Today’s refugee camp is rarely a short-term stopover.The modern refugee is likely the long-term resident of a camp that has become its own urban world. And if such permanent refugee cities are the future, we need to ask what they will look like. Hopefully more like cities than camps — and more like everyday life than like a prison sentence.