Places of refugeJourneys and places are important aspects of migration. That’s one reason why maps, suitcases and luggage tags are frequently used as symbols; they convey a sense of the excitement and novelty of travel and of moving on. The other side of this is the desire to settle whilst staying connected to remembered places where relatives still live.
But some migrant journeys are made in haste and out of necessity, and the places they lead to may be basic and temporary. When large numbers of men, women and children are forced to leave their homes and cross borders because of civil war or natural disasters, they often find themselves in refugee camps. These may initially offer a safe and secure haven, but may not be comfortable or suitable for long-term family life. Although these camps generally provide a basic minimum of food, clean water, shelter and healthcare, they are not like home, and may even become a focus for disease or criminal activity. Although refugees do not plan to stay for long, some remain for many years because it is too dangerous to go home, or they no longer have homes to go to. Camps are generally set up following an emergency to meet a temporary need, but some develop into permanent places of residence: services develop, and education and work are provided. Worldwide there are nearly eight million “perpetual refugees”.
© Sandra Dudley
Camps are often established close to borders, either to serve those making their escape or to house those seeking to cross. Many Karenni refugees fled Myanmar (Burma) and journeyed to camps across the border in Thailand. A lot of Kurds and Afghans fleeing political troubles in their own countries made their way to the refugee camp of Sangatte, in France, in the hope of crossing to the UK to apply for asylum.
Camps in Dadaab, in Kenya, have housed more than 150,000 refugees from Somalia since the early 1990s as a result of the deepening humanitarian crisis in that country. Drought, famine and conflict in 2011 led many more to flee to Dadaab. The camp's new Ifo extension has space for a further 90,000 refugees.
Darfur has also seen the growth of large camps, like Zam Zam, following the civil war in Sudan. Like others, these camps are run and supported by non-governmental organisations, such as development agencies and charities, in association with national governments and the United Nations. They provide water, sanitation and healthcare, distribute food, and where possible develop education, social services, employment and solutions to poverty.
Some of the Palestinian refugees who fled the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 have lived with their families in camps in Lebanon for more than fifty years. Some still recall the violent episodes that drove them into exile. Younger family members have never been to the ‘homeland’, though they have their own images of it. The majority of these long-standing camp inhabitants have jobs or are students, but their lives continue to be affected by the Arab-Israeli conflict.