5 Largest Refugee Camps

5 Largest Refugee Camps

(photo by U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


What happens when a refugee flees their country?  Over 4 million refugees live in refugee camps around the world.  These camps may be planned, created by governments or organizations to house growing numbers of refugees.  They may also be self-settled, or built when groups of refugees chose to try and build new lives for themselves once they got to relative safety.  In both cases, however, there is a lack of sustainable aid and of basic services that most of us take for granted – access to healthcare, education, and more.  Too often, refugee camps are intended as short-term solutions but become long-term situations.

It’s important to understand what life is like in these refugee camps in order to understand what types of aid is needed.  Every refugee camp has its own culture and history.  They also tell a story of where conflict is happening and where people are fleeing to.  Here’s an overview of the five largest refugee camps in the world (as of June 2017).



1. Kakuma, Kenya

This refugee camp was established in 1992.  It currently has a population of 184,550, the majority of whom fled Somalia and South Sudan.  Although it was a planned camp, conditions over the past two decades have deteriorated.  Malnutrition and infectious disease are common health problems in the camp, in part due to how overcrowded it is.  Despite the poor conditions, however, children who attend school in Kakuma out-perform their peers across the country.


2. Hagadera, Kenya

Hagadera is also a planned camp built in 1992.  The majority of the 105,998 residents fled violence and poor conditions in Somalia.  The rapid growth of the camp’s population has led to residents building settlements on the outskirts of the camp.  Currently, officials are attempting to alleviate the overcrowding by moving residents to other nearby camps.  Hagadera has a good economy based around a thriving market, giving residents a chance to make a living and have a job despite being displaced from their homes.  


3. Dagahaley, Kenya

87,223 residents, primarily from Somalia, live in this planned camp built in 1992 as a result of the Somalia Civil War.  It was never expected that so many people would still be living in it two and a half decades later.  The resulting overcrowding and construction of settlements outside the camp boundaries has caused a great deal of friction between residents and locals, and the Kenyan government has threatened to close the camp down for good.


4. Ifo, Kenya

Like the first three largest camps, Ifo was built in 1992 to house Somali refugees fleeing their country’s civil war.  Ifo is also severely overcrowded, with 84,089 residents, to the point where a secondary camp, named Ifo II, was built.  Residents live on extremely small plots of land, many of which are located in an area prone to floods.  


5. Zaatari, Jordan

Zaatari was established in 2012 for refugees fleeing Syria.  Within a year, over 140,000 people lived in the camp.  Today, 77,781 people live there – still well over the planned population of 60,000.  Despite having thousands of more people than planned, Zaatari is in good condition and offers a number of important services, such as schools, hospitals, and refugee-owned camps.  


Source: UNHCR