The Current

Rethinking refugee camps: New solutions for human crises

The world's largest refugee camp Dadaab in Kenya has been in existence for almost 25 years. Palestinian refugee camps have existed for more than six decades. Our 'By Design' series questions the concept of temporary refuge that becomes permanent, with all the politics, poverty and problems that entails.
The United Nations Refugee Agency is re-thinking its approach to refugee camps. We're asking how the world might design a better one. (Khaled Fazaa/AFP/Getty Images)
Young refugees wait for the arrival of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at Dadaab refugee camp. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)
Refugee Facts: -There are more than 16 million refugees in the world today. - Half are children. -There are 5 million Palestinian refugees.  - Together, Afghans, Syrians and Somalis account for half the world's refugees. -The main host countries to refugees are Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.  - 86% of the world's refugees are hosted by developing countries.

If you close your eyes and imagine a refugee camp, you probably picture a dusty, isolated place filled with temporary shelters, make-shift tent-hospitals and desperate people.

You might also imagine that it's a temporary set-up ... a place people pass through as quickly as possible on their way to better lives somewhere else. But increasingly, that scenario is the exception rather than the rule. 

The Dadaab refugee camp is in Eastern Kenya, near the border with Somalia. It is home to 350,000 people. It has been there for 25 years. Some families there are now introducing a third generation to the camp. A place that was supposed to be temporary has taken on an uncomfortable permanence.

Dadaab is one of dozens of camps with long histories. And now, after years of seeing refugee camps as the solution to human crises, the United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, has initiated a new policy, aimed at creating alternatives to refugee camps.

Today as part of our project By Design, we're exploring the push to rethink refugee camps.

  • Catherine-Lune Grayson has worked in refugee camps in East Africa and Yemen. She's a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal.
  • Michael Kagan teaches law at the University of Nevada. He spent 10 years developing legal aid for refugees in the Middle East and he was in Las Vegas.

If you're wondering where Canada fits into the picture - Fewer than 10 percent of refugees in the world are resettled into a third country each year. Of those who are, Canada takes in about 1 in 10.

Is it time to find alternatives to refugee camps? If you've come to Canada as a refugee, what was your experience? 

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This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Pacinthe Mattar.