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ICC Note: The world’s refugee camps are a mess. Fraught with insecurity, they often serve as the recruiting base for extremist terrorism where residents lack an autonomous voice and tend to become permanent citizens of humanitarian-aid administered pseudo towns. Dadaab is a representative example of these problems, a refuge in eastern Kenya for Somalis, it is long known to be infiltrated by al-Shabaab. Refugee camps such as Dabaab bring into focus the reality of persecution in the world as they often house Christians fleeing from oppression. They also can serve as the breeding grounds of future persecutors, often radicalized by the disillusionment that comes by experiencing disaster. 

By Jessica Anderson

1/12/16 Dadaab, Kenya (FP) – 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.

“We basically run Dadaab municipality,” a senior U.N. officer told me with a grin. “I’m playing the role of town clerk, my boss is the mayor, and the taxpayers are the international community.” The international aid workers’ pride in the camp’s orderliness is striking. But what appeals about Dadaab to U.N. bureaucrats doesn’t necessarily make meaningful life possible for the people who live there.

By necessity, refugee camps like Dadaab offer a window into the experiences of a large fraction of the world’s 60 million displaced people. Despite recent efforts by western states to accept more asylum seekers, they can only do so much. Even with the best intentions, only a small fraction of the world’s refugees can be absorbed by distant lands, so refugee crises primarily affect neighboring states. Recent reforms in the U.N.’s refugee policy has centered on finding alternatives to camps, like “refugee self-settlement”: having refugees integrate directly into the host country with no official assistance. But in the U.N., change is implemented slowly, and host states are typically unwilling to allow an influx of refugees to integrate into their societies. So, for the foreseeable future, many refugees will continue to live in camps run by the international community.

With the migrant crisis in the spotlight, it is now time to reimagine the refugee camp.

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