Tuesday 12 July 2011

Life as a Refugee Child (Lesson Plan, I Part)

At present, some 1,300 refugees a day, the vast majority from war-torn Somalia, are pouring into the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya – now the world's largest such site, with almost 400,000 displaced people in three camps originally designed for 90,000. Chronic food insecurity has spiraled into a massive humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, where today more than 10 million people are in acute need of assistance. The situation, affecting large parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, is only expected to deteriorate.

Aim of the activity:
  1. to know the facts: reasons why people have to ask for refuge in another country; the hazardous situations and harsh conditions they endure and what their lives are like in refugee camps.
  2. to introduce the idea that basic needs are rights.
  3. to empathise with refugees leaving their homes and countries.
  4. to develop in the students a desire to seek solutions to problems
Number of students: minimum 8


First Part
  1. Some definitions
  2. Video: Daadab Refugee Camp
  3. Anatomy of a Refugee Camp
Second Part
  1. Jacob and Amin’s Stories
  2. Jacob's Story and Activity Sheet
  3. Amin's Story Comic
  4. Debriefing
  5. Activity “Wants and Needs”
  6. Video: Somali Children in a Refugee Camp
  7. Discussion

Some definitions:

Refugees are people who flee their country because of 'a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.

Refugees either cannot return home, or are afraid to do so. Under the rules of the UN Convention a refugee has the right to stay in the new country for as long as may be needed.

Asylum seekers are people who have left their own countries claiming persecution and are seeking a place of safety. They may be granted refugee status in their host country and be able to stay.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDP's) like refugees, have been forced to leave their homes because of persecution, war or other threats, but unlike refugees, remain in their own country. Increasingly, they are the victims of civil war.

Migrants are people who move from their home to another place. This may be internal migration - movement within a country - or international migration where migrants leave their country to live in another country, often seeking more money and a better life for their children. Unlike refugees, migrants are free to return home if they should wish to because, although they may be very poor, their lives are not in danger. These types of migrants are often called economic migrants.

Returnees are refugees who, when conditions allow, return to their own countries. They may return by themselves or with the assistance of the UNHCR or other agencies. This is called voluntary repatriation.  

See Video: Daadab Refugee Camp

Refugee Camp

Anatomy of a refugee camp

Every refugee camp is different since every situation is different. In most cases, proper design of a camp isn't possible because refugees have already settled on a site.

In this case, aid agencies look at how to improve the camp, or decide if the population should be moved somewhere else.

The number of people living in a camp depends on the crisis. When the number of refugees is in the hundreds of thousands, aid agencies try to set up a few smaller camps with populations of no more than 20,000 rather than one massive camp. Smaller camps are easier to manage when it comes to fire risks, security problems, the spreading of diseases, etc.

Camps are usually located on the edges of towns or cities in a secure area, away from the border, war zones and landmines. The camp should be set up on sloped terrain that provides natural drainage. It should also be away from breeding sites of insects that can carry disease.

Length of Stay
Camps are only meant to be temporary solutions, giving refugees a place to live until they can safely return home. They are not meant to be permanent residences. However, refugees often end up living in the camps for much longer than expected.

In Albania, refugees from Kosovo lived in camps for only three months, while refugees from Somalia have been living in camps in Kenya since 1991. Palestinian refugees have been living in camps in Lebanon for more than 50 years.

Gates & Security
In general, security is the responsibility of the host government, which guards camps using its military or local police. In many camps, they work along with the refugees to have some sort of self-policing mechanism. Security is especially a problem in camps that are not closed in by a fence. Because refugees don't have a lot of possessions, security is usually a question of ensuring personal safety to prevent crimes against people, such as the rape of women. Aid agencies also try to maintain camps as civilian institutions. Governments complain that camps are used by rebel soldiers for rest and recreation, and for the smuggling of weapons.

Barbed wire fences
In some cases, host governments insist on enclosing refugee camps with barbed wire fences so the refugees don't mix in with the local population. In Thailand, for example, people are not allowed in or out of the camps without permission of the government.



Shelters for refugees are usually made of local materials, such as wood, metal sheets, branches and plastic sheeting. When possible, refugees construct their own shelters with tools and other assistance provided. Shelters usually have stoves for heat and cooking, although often in warm climates cooking facilities are outside.


The minimum shelter space recommended is 3.5 square meters per person in warm climates where cooking is done outside, or 4.5 to 5.5 square meters in cold climates, where indoor kitchen and bathing facilities are needed. In emergencies however, large groups of people are often crammed into much smaller spaces.

In emergency situations or if local materials are not available, aid agencies can provide tents. Refugees should be able to stand in all areas of the tent without hitting their heads on the ceiling. Tents should be covered with an outer fly to shade and protect the tent below. Tents last two to three years.

Public Buildings
Schools, warehouses and other public buildings are often converted to shelters.

Water Point
There should be at least one place to get water for every 200 to 250 refugees. The minimum amount of water required in an emergency situation is at least one gallon of water per person per day. This should be increased to five to six gallons per person as soon as possible so people have enough water for cooking, personal hygiene, and washing dishes and clothing.

Food storage warehouse
Food is usually stored in one large tent that serves as a warehouse. Warehouses should be located near administrative offices for reasons of security, and likely near the entrance of the camp so supply trucks don't have to drive through populated areas.

Food Distribution Point
Food distribution can be done at one location or broken up among several (i.e. dividing a population of 20,000 among four distribution points).

Refugees don't pick up food every day. Instead, they are given rations to last for a week or even as long as a month. The camp is divided so food is handed out to different people on different days, to avoid long line-ups and chaos.

Food Rations
Families receive basic rations. For instance, in some cases rice is handed out, while other times wheat is more appropriate.

It is considered a serious nutritional emergency when there is a malnutrition rate of more than 15 per cent, or more than 10 per cent with aggravating factors such as an epidemic. But not all camps have cases of malnutrition.

"It depends where you are," says Judith Kumin, the Canadian representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "If you're in a Rafha camp in Saudi Arabia where people have been for 10 years, the material conditions are good. The problem is that they're just locked up. Everybody has enough to eat and everybody has healthcare, they just don't have a future."

The Role of Women
Aid workers try to give the food to women instead of men. Workers find the food is more likely to get to older people and children that way because women are the ones who cook the food. Men are more likely to sell the rations for money to buy something else.

Main Health Centre
Aid agencies provide primary health care, which is coordinated at a main or central health centre. In some cases, the health care provided in the camp is better than what the local residents receive, in which case the health services are opened to non-refugees.

Some refugee camps have hospitals where doctors can deliver babies, perform surgeries or amputations. If refugees have access to a hospital or clinic in the host country, the camp won't build its own. A hospital or clinic usually serves a population of 200,000 (or one hospital per 10 refugee camps).

Health Post
Besides the main health centre, smaller health posts are set up throughout the camp. Each serves 3,000 to 5,000 refugees. Nurses provide treatment for things such as sore throats, fevers, cuts and scrapes. Serious cases are referred to the main health centre.

Cholera Camp
Cholera is a disease people can get by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. It causes diarrhea, severe vomiting and muscle cramps. Without quick treatment, about 50 per cent of people who get cholera will die of dehydration.

An outbreak of cholera hit Rwandan refugees in 1994 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of 500,000 to 800,000 refugees, about 10 per cent of the population got sick, with about 1,000 cholera-related deaths per day.

Cholera poses such a significant risk to refugees that it is recommended that a space for a cholera camp is set aside in advance of an outbreak. It should be separated from other health facilities to help contain the disease.

Ideally there should be one latrine per family. If public latrines are used, there should be at least one for every 20 people.

Depending on time constraints, cultural issues and geological factors, one of a number of types of latrines can be built, such as defecation fields, collective trench latrines, or simple pit latrines. Defecation fields are meant to serve as a quick, temporary solution in an emergency because without a designated place, people will defecate wherever they please. When time permits, defection fields are replaced by shallow trench latrines, and these are eventually replaced by simple pit latrines.

Meeting Place
Meeting places are where leaders among the refugees gather to discuss issues affecting the camp. This usually consists of a tent or structure with a roof so people can get out of the sun. Leaders are elected by the refugees to represent different sections of the camp.

Aid agency Save the Children believes education services should be maintained during emergencies. "It's very important for children to have a sense of normalcy," says Nadine Grant, director of programs for Save the Children in Canada. "By maintaining some sort of schooling, however basic or minimal it is, it actually helps keep a sense of normalcy in the child's life, and it helps in their recovery and it helps to minimize issues of trauma. So we often push for education as a first response in emergencies." There should be one school per sector of the camp (about 5,000 people).

Health facilities keep track of death rates and causes of death, according to the UNHCR. They also monitor sites being used as cemeteries to keep track of how many people are dying.

The most important indicators of the overall status of a refugee population, according to the UNHCR's Handbook for Emergencies, are the mortality rates for the population as a whole and for children under age 5.

The main causes of death and disease in emergency situations are measles, diarrhea (including cholera), acute respiratory infections, malnutrition and malaria.

Major geopolitical transitions have caused some of the largest refugee migrations in the twentieth century. The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused approximately 1.5 million Russians who opposed communism to flee. One million Armenians fled Turkey between 1915-1923 to escape persecution and genocide. Following the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, two million Chinese fled to Taiwan and Hong Kong. The world's largest population transfer in history occurred in 1947 when 18 million Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India were moved between newly the created countries of Pakistan and India.

Approximately 3.7 million East Germans fled to West Germany between 1945 and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was constructed.

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