Kakuma lies in the northwestern region of Turkana County in Kenya. It is one of the many refugee camps set up by Kenya in an effort to relocate the refugees and asylum seekers majorly from Sudan and Ethiopia. This refugee camp Kakuma is a site under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which was established in 1992. Kakuma translates to “nowhere” in Swahili and has been controlled by the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) since 2006 when the Kenya Refugee Act was adopted. Here are 10 facts one must know about one of the largest cosmopolitan refugee camps around the globe:          

1. It housed ‘The Lost Boys of Sudan’ | Refugee Camp Kakuma

The Lost Boys of Sudan was a group of over 30,000 Sudanese children who fled their homes. They left their home due to the civil war in the 1980s. They walked 1000 miles over 3 months without support from any adults. Many of these boys (along with a few girls) died as a result of drowning, hunger, attacks from soldiers, and the wild.  These children managed to walk to Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, which took them a year. By this time the United Nations was aware of them and provided food for them. But by the time these children reached Kakuma, only less than half managed to survived. 3,600 Lost Boys of Sudan were allowed in the US in 2001.           

Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet1
The Lost Boys of Sudan still stranded in Kakuma_©KANERE
Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet
The walking of the many. Painting by David Kumcieng, aged15_©UNHCRImage David Kumcieng

David Kumcieng explains his picture:

“We wanted to run, but we had to walk because we were tired and so hot and hungry. In my picture, the people are wearing clothes, but of course, we didn’t have any clothes. we saw people dying, it was always the young ones, the hungry ones, and the old ones.”

2. Tension between the Local and the Refugees

Kakuma is from the second most poor region of Kenya and due to poverty, there has been violence between the local population and asylum seekers from the wars. The host community mostly has nomadic pastoralists who stick to their traditions and do not cooperate with refugees. The camp has since become an integral part of the socio-economic background of Kakuma.

3. Effects of the Climate and Geography on the Camp | Refugee Camp Kakuma

Kakuma camp lies in a semi-arid climate where the temperature rises to as high as 40°C; it is very humid but dry due to which agriculture is difficult in the Kakuma camp. This led to a rift between the locals of Turkana and the refugees about cattle and land ownership. The refugees were not allowed to keep any animals which limited their source of income.

4. The layout of the Camp

The area of the camp is spread across four regions namely Kakuma I-IV managed b the Kenyan Government in conjunction with UNHCR. As of 2020, the camp has 2,00,000 people, mostly refugees from the civil war in South Sudan. Staff members stay outside the camp border in three large compounds with amenities, including a swimming pool, bars, shops, recreational centers, and exercise rooms. The UNHCR has fully air-conditioned, self-contained rooms, and all compounds have electricity and water. Each ethnic community has occupied a separate and discrete area for itself Each neighborhood built its market stands, coffee shops, library, and places of worship.

Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet3
Neighborhood shops in the camp_©Dominic Kirui
Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet4
Water facilities in the camp_©Peter Lotethiro

5. Housing in the Camp | Refugee Camp Kakuma

When asylum seekers reach Kakuma they are provided with a piece of reinforced plastic-4×5 meters with which they are supposed to construct a dwelling. While the plastic provides waterproofing, the material is not self-supporting and provides no insulation to the interiors. Long pieces of wood are needed to make the framework with grass to act as the insulation for the walls. Some of these houses are built of mud bricks, wood, or cane extracted from the surrounding. The other half is thatched roof huts, tents, and mud abodes.

Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet5
A typical unit in Kakuma©Weebly
Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet6
The Poor Housing conditions in the region_©Weebly

6. Security and the Justice system in the Camp

There is a Kenyan police station located just outside the camp that usually does not operate after dusk. It is not usual for the Kenyan police to intervene in camp security without having been specifically asked to do so by UNHCR. Refugees have been allowed to establish their own ‘court’ system. Community leaders preside over these courts and are allowed to pocket the fines they impose. Apart from fines, there are punishments, including flogging and detention. Refugees have no access to legal remedies against abuses because they cannot appeal against their courts.

7. Food and Health Facilities in Kakuma

A 90-bed main hospital with the possibility and practice of referral to other hospitals in Kenya is set up in the camp. Additionally, there are a total of five satellite clinics with a total capacity of 520. Apart from the minority who were able to establish shops, the majority of residents in Kakuma depend on the food rations supplied for survival. The World Food Program (WFP) provides refugees with rations twice a month based on the nutritional value required. Since 2015 the WFP started using digital cash that gives freedom to the refugees in matters of the choice and variety of food options; which is also good for the local economy.

Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet7
Inside the Kakuma Refugee Camp_©JohanniyerFaisio

8. Education in the Region | Refugee Camp Kakuma

Compared to the larger region, the camp has a higher percentage of children in full-time education. “The education coverage is pre-primary 25%, primary education 65%, secondary education 2%. In 2014 there were: 7 pre-schools, 21 primary schools, 4 secondary schools (2 high schools and 2 technical colleges, which teach Kenyan curriculum and Arabic courses ), numerous vocational training, and co-curricular” according to information from Wikipedia.

There are certain cultural/traditional restrictions on girls’ education in the Kakuma camp. Only 20% of the school-going children happen to be girls. Exclusive girls boarding schools have been established, which promote studying further at the University of Toronto (Canada) based on their performances.

9. Notable Residents from the Camp  

Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet8
Halia Aden©olympics.com

Halia Aden born in the Kakuma camp in 1997; is a model who first got her recognition for being the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA Pageant, where she was the semi-finalist.  

Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know - Sheet9
Rose Nathike Likonyen_©olympics.com

Rose Nathike Likonyen is a field and track athlete from South Sudan, representing the Refugee Olympic Team. She was a part of the Olympic games Rio 2016.

Awer Bul Mabil©olympics.com

Born as a South Sudanese refugee in Kenya, Awer Bul Mabil played football for the Australian team and trained with the South Australian National Training Centre.

10. The Future of the Kakuma Camp | Refugee Camp Kakuma

Kenya has had refugees in the Kakuma Refugee Camp since 1992 and, in 2015, with the support of UNHCR, established the Kalobeyei Settlement on 1,500 hectares of land with an aim to improve the livelihood opportunities of refugees. UN-Habitat designed a development plan for the settlement that would accommodate 60,000 people, in which investments would be shared equally by the refugees and the local community.

 In 2017, UN-Habitat approached the famous architect Shigeru Ban and the NGO Voluntary Architects Network to develop several shelter typologies for a pilot neighborhood in Kalobeyei Settlement and Philippe Monteil monitored the site and construction progress. The finalized four prototypes that are proposed draw their inspiration from the building and construction techniques of the nomadic Turkana people and keep in mind the vernacular architecture of the region and the need of the refugee occupants. Refugees with the locals were hired to build their own houses so there would be awareness about the process and maintenance of their homes.

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Traditional Turkana house under construction_©Philippe Monteil
Prototype D_©Philippe Monteil
Prototype D_©Philippe Monteil



2) https://kanere.org/lost-boys-of-sudan/

3)Lotethiro P.(2015)Clashes between refugees and host communities: the case study of Kakuma refugee camp,1992-2013) Availableat:https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Clashes-between-refugees-and-host-communities%3A-the-Lotethiro/9d92780c2e3d84cee8da141d5a3aad9028dba549( Accessed on Sept 16 2022)

4) https://www.unhcr.org/en-in/search?query=kakuma


6) https://www.architectural-review.com/buildings/housing/building-refuge-from-emergency-shelter-to-home

7) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakuma

8) https://www.painttheglobefoundation.org/campaign-4


Manaswi is a student who is exploring various avenues of architecture. She is an amateur photographer and loves to observe more than what meets the eye. Her deep interest in the human mind and architecture has given her a different perspective on life in general.