The refugee population is increasing globally, with the current number reaching a whopping 100 million globally. This trend is expected to worsen with the climate crisis triggering the loss of land for human habitation and agriculture. A disaster or conflict can turn a well-endowed and productive individual into a refugee, pushing them into a vicious cycle of loss of home, livelihood, dear ones, and dignity, leaving them with little to call their own.  

Refugee Camps: Everything you should know with examples from the world - Sheet1
syrian refugee camp in the outskirts of athens_©julie Ricard

As a temporary relief measure, refugee camps are set up by governments and humanitarian agencies to support refugees as they find their feet to normalcy. Hence maintenance and functionality of refugee camps is an important aspect. Though intended to be used as temporary means of shelter, refugee camps mostly develop into permanent habitats for people, making gender sensitivity, inclusion, and community integration issues within the camps of utmost importance. Literature on the subject suggests that although these considerations are only met partly, they often leave the respondents unsatisfied with their experience at the camp.  

Nyarugusu refugee camp, Tanzania

Refugee Camps: Everything you should know with examples from the world - Sheet2
Nyarugusu refugee camp Tanzania_©nrc.no

There are several examples in support of this statement. Set up by the UNHCR, The Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania currently houses 150,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Among the largest refugee camps worldwide, this camp is a world of its own. Set up in 1996 in the backdrop of red earth, many brick homes, schools, and markets have come up in the camp. Not only has this camp become a means of shelter for the refugees, but it also serves as a context for them to pursue their livelihood. By setting up savings groups and facilitating monetary support, many refugees have set up small businesses and other sources of income. Though the Nyarugusu camp has become a permanent settlement for many, a lack of resources and funds has caused a shortage of supplies and a compromise in educational, medical, nutritional, and sanitation facilities. 

Refugee Camps: Everything you should know with examples from the world - Sheet3
refugee tent in nyarugusu camps_©aljazeera.com

Muddy paths, which serve as roads, combined with tents used as means of housing, mark the landscape of this camp. The tents, placed so close to each other that there is barely any space to pass through, paint a rather grim picture. With minimal food supplies available through ration cards, many are forced to live a frugal life, left malnourished and hungry. Overcrowding in the camp leaves people with infectious diseases without proper medical attention. Although the camp has schools, the educational facilities are poor and need urgent renewal. The Tanzanian government’s strict encampment policies further exacerbate these refugees’ already traumatic experiences. Priority attention to sending them back to their respective countries leaves them alienated, with little to look forward to. Currently, a withdrawal in funding and lack of support from the Tanzanian government has made life harder for the residents of the Nyarugusu camp. 

Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh

Refugee Camps: Everything you should know with examples from the world - Sheet4
rohingya refugee tents_©unrefugees.org

Another interesting example is the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh that is home to 880,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar due to violence. The constant, rapid influx of Rohingya refugees into Kutupalong left the government without the option of implementing proper urban planning norms and regulations, making the living environment overcrowded and haphazard. Based on guidelines by the UNHCR, the minimum area requirement per person in a refugee camp is 35 square meters, whereas Kutupalong camp currently provides 18 square meters per person, making these temporary shelters too small for an average family. 

Established on an overcrowded, hilly terrain with insufficient drainage, the refugee camps in the area get flooded several times a year. Improper road access makes it difficult to supply services and resources at a time of need; sanitation facilities prove to be insufficient, leaving the inhabitants susceptible to diseases. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of cases of landslides due to deforestation to make way for the rapid influx of Rohingya refugees. 

 Although primary schools exist in the camps, higher educational institutions are not permitted to be built, leaving parents extremely concerned about their children’s future. As a ray of hope, a training center for women allows them to look forward to a self-reliant future. The Rohingya refugees look forward to a day they can return to their homeland and reunite with everything they call their own. 

The journey to a refugee camp from the site of conflict is often one of extreme hardship and struggle. Lack of adequate funding and inefficient systems leaves refugees vulnerable to diseases and various forms of abuse, making survival itself a challenge. Examples of refugee camps worldwide highlight the importance of putting aside political and governance challenges and engaging architects and planners to design spaces that are easier to maintain, support human well-being, promote social cohesion, and propel the refugees into a virtuous cycle of empowerment and self-help. 

Refugee camps can serve as spaces that foster individual and collective agency to return to everyday life. However, comprehensive responses from architects and planners have been few and far between. Most often, the ad-hoc planning and design of refugee camps and shelters inadvertently promote dependency, gender-based violence, ill health, and loss of human dignity. With the trends of climate refugees on the rise, the need for such camps will only increase. Now, the time is more critical than ever before to fulfill this moral responsibility as good designers. 

References

Article title: Refugees Archives | World Vision
Website title: World Vision
URL: https://www.worldvision.org/category/refugees-news-stories

 

Article title: Rohingya refugees at high risk of coronavirus: Daily Star
Website title: The Straits Times
URL: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/rohingya-refugees-at-high-risk-of-coronavirus-daily-star

 

Article title: Is there Hope for Nyarugusu Camp refugees?
Website title: Nyarugusu Camp Voices
URL: https://nyarugusucampvoices.com/2015/08/09/is-there-hope-for-nyarugusu-camp-refugees/

 

Article title: Inside the world’s five largest refugee camps
Website title: Unrefugees.org
URL: https://www.unrefugees.org/news/inside-the-world-s-five-largest-refugee-camps/

 

Author World Staff
Article title: Voices of Rohingya refugees: Praying through the crisis | World Vision
Website title: World Vision
URL: https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/voices-of-rohingya-refugees

 

Article title: 6 things to know about refugees in Tanzania
Website title: NRC
URL: https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2019/6-things-you-should-know-about-refugees-in-tanzania/

 

Article title: Internet Explorer detected
Website title: Unrefugees.org
URL: https://www.unrefugees.org/news/inside-the-world-s-five-largest-refugee-camps/

 

Author World Staff
Article title: Voices of Rohingya refugees: Praying through the crisis | World Vision
Website title: World Vision
URL: https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/voices-of-rohingya-refugees

 

Article title: Grundfos Foundation – Nyarugusu Refugee Camp
Website title: Pdjf.dk
URL: https://www.pdjf.dk/en/program/nyarugusu-refugee-camp/

 

Article title: UN Environment – Case Study of the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp; Tanzania – Resources
Website title: Resources
URL: https://resources.eecentre.org/resources/un-environment-case-study-of-the-nyarugusu-refugee-camp-tanzania/

 

Article title: Rohingya Flee to Kutupalong, the World’s Largest Refugee Camp
Website title: World Food Program USA
URL: https://www.wfpusa.org/articles/rohingya-crisis-a-firsthand-look-into-the-worlds-largest-refugee-camp/

 

Author

Tara is a student of architecture, with a keen interest in exploring futuristic solutions for problems related to the built environment. As a budding writer and researcher, she looks forward to a future marked by harmony between the built environment and nature, marking the age of ‘ecological building’

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