Facts, Inside Africa

Biggest Refugee Camps in Africa

The second-largest continent in the world, Africa is also home to over 26% of refugees in the world. The numbers are staggering, and continue to grow as more nations get caught in wars.

The biggest refugee camps in Africa aim to bring solace to those escaping their homelands, while providing them with food, shelter, education, health care, and more.

9. Mishamo, Tanzania

Mishamo refugee camp

Mishamo – image credit to MONUSCO Photos [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Another of the largest African refugee camps resides in Tanzania. Mishamo was originally a makeshift refugee camp formed in the 1970s, but has since become formally established. The camp is currently home to over 62,000 refugees, mostly from Burundi, as they escape the extreme violence and extermination of citizens in the country.

Mishamo excels in its productivity, with its inhabitants farming their own food and creating a strong economy for themselves. Many of its citizens have also received official Tanzanian citizenship within the past few years.

8. Pugnido, Ethiopia

Pugnido - biggest African refugee camps

Pugnido – Image credit to Jrh008 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Pugnido lies in Western Ethiopia, and is the oldest refugee camp in the area. Its current population rests at over 62,000 refugees, with several of them remaining since the opening of the camp in 1993. Most of its refugees are from Sudan, and thousands of its children are currently in its foster care system after being displaced from their families.

The camp has several preschools, primary, and secondary schools, and even two vocational schools to help further the education of its citizens. However, an influx of Sudanese refugees fleeing the country’s violence has seriously impacted much of the camp’s resource availability.

7. Katumba, Tanzania

Katumba big refugee camp Africa

Katumba – Image credit to Julien Harnels [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Katumba is not only one of the largest African refugee camps, but it’s also one of the oldest in the entire world, as it was established in 1972. Katumba began as an unplanned settlement, forming when Burundian citizens moved into Tanzania to escape the mass extermination of Burundi civilians at the time.

The majority of Katumba residents have since become nationally-recognized Tanzanian citizens, thanks to the offer of citizenship by the Tanzanian government. The refugee camp is currently home to over 66,000 inhabitants.

6. Yida, South Sudan

Yida biggest refugee camps

Yida – Image credit to Trocaire [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Yida, established in 2012, is home to over 70,000 residents, mostly from Sudan. The refugee camp was never planned, but instead was created by refugees escaping the Second Sudanese Civil War.

For security reasons, the United Nations has attempted to rehome Yida refugees to other nearby camps, but its inhabitants have refused to move. As a result, food rations have declined at the camp.

5. Ifo, Kenya

Biggest refugee camps in Africa - Ifo

Ifo – Image credit to Oxfam East Africa [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Another refugee camp of the Dadaab compound, Ifo currently consists of over 62,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia. Ifo is the oldest Dadaab refugee camp, and is home to refugees from ten different countries. In 2011, the large influx of refugees from Somalia forced a second Ifo camp, known as Ifo 2, to open its doors and relieve congestion from Ifo.

Ifo provides a safe haven for children, especially, who were displaced from their homes and families during crises in their countries. The camp has a fostering program for children to find safe homes with other refugee families.

Ifo also is one of the leading refugee camps for health care, with its level-four hospital providing surgical services and many pregnant women getting access to prenatal care. However, congestion is threatening the efficiency of the camp’s health care services.

4. Dagahaley, Kenya


Dagahaley – Image credit to Oxfam East Africa [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Dagahaley is another of Dadaab’s refugee camps, opened in 1992, with approximately 90,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia. The population of Dagahaley remained fairly consistent until 2011, when a surge in Somalia civil war sent an unexpected influx of refugees to the camp, leaving the camp congested, and the outskirts becoming filled with refugee families looking for a safe home.

Dagahaley has educational services, including primary, secondary, and adult schools. The camp also provides youth groups and activities, including sports, vocational training, and female empowerment groups. Shelter and infrastructure, however, remain a significant issue, as congested living spaces and public space boundaries often become blurred at the camp, resulting in conflicts.

3. Hagadera, Kenya

Hagadera third biggest refugee camp Africa

Hagadera – Image credit to Oxfam East Africa [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Hagadera was founded in 1992, and remains the largest of the Dadaab refugee camps, with over 100,000 refugees, most of which are from Somali. The population of Hagadera, however, has steadily been declining over the last few years, with thousands of refugees moving to the outskirts of the camp in an effort to decongest it.

But, the camp remains highly congested, and efforts have been put in place to re-home refugees. Malnutrition is an issue in Hagadera, especially for young children, with not enough food resources to go around. The camp also is in an area with a difficult climate, with very little rainfall, high winds, and extreme heat.

2. Kakuma, Kenya

Kakuma refugee camp second biggest Africa

By D. Willetts [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo] via Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1992, Kakuma began as the home of thousands of Ethiopian refugees who fled from their country after the fall of the Ethiopian government. The camp has also aided refugees from Somalia looking for a safe harbor from the country’s civil wars.

Kakuma can house 125,000 refugees, but took in more than 50,000 refugees over its maximum capacity in 2014. The camp is highly congested, and its refugees don’t receive much access to education or income-making opportunities.

The United Nations approved an expansion to the camp in 2016 to help relieve Kakuma’s current congestion. The new settlement, known as Kalobeyei, is already home to about 6,000 refugees, with a capacity for 60,000.

1. Dadaab, Kenya

Dabaab the biggest refugee camp in Africa

Dabaab – biggest refugee camp in Africa – by DFID – UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Late in 2016, the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya announced that it was going to be closing due to fears of security in Kenya, which would leave hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced. A United Nations request postponed the closure for at least six months, and Kenya’s high court has since made the closing order void.

The refugee camp is currently home to over 250,000 refugees, making it not only the largest refugee camp in Africa, but the largest in the world. The camp consists of several other camps, which are some of the largest refugee camps, themselves. Many people in Dadaab camps are provided with digital communication tools to help them learn and utilize technology, further their education, and connect with loved ones.

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