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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 109 (Suppl.), April 2009



Kakuma Refugee Camp



In mid-1992, Kakuma Refugee Camp was established to cater for refugees. It is situated in Turkana North District – a semi-arid, isolated, hot and dusty region in the north of Kenya, with temperatures often reaching 40 degrees Celsius. The belief and hope was that “the Camp” would be a temporary arrangement. Sixteen years later, it is still there.

The refugees have come chiefly from the Sudan, but also from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and some other African countries. At the end of 2007, there was an estimated population of 93,000, with over forty percent of the residents born in the Camp. Right from its very beginning, the Catholic Church has been present, ministering to the Catholic population of about 33,000 and helping all the people. 

The Changing Face of Kakuma Camp (2008)

  • In the first quarter of 2008, many Sudanese returned to South Sudan. This was due to encouragement from some leaders in Sudan to return for the Census, the increase of harassment and problems in the Camp itself and the systematic blocking of educational facilities to students. The speed of repatriation has been quicker than expected.
  • There is a lot of mobility at present in the Camp. The internal problems of the Sudan seem far from resolution and, after the initial euphoria of returning home, quite a few have become disillusioned. Kakuma Camp was not too bad after all!
  • The increasing number of Somali citizens being transferred to Kakuma has had an effect on the general ethos of the Camp and its environs.


  • The Refugee Camp will not close down in the foreseeable future. The population will fluctuate in numbers and nationalities. It will probably level off at 40,000 and could continue for another five years. From a high of 60,000 Sudanese refugees (2007), the citizens of Sudan will probably stabilize at 10,000. There will be a significant increase of people from Somalia.
  • The present “other refugees” (non-Sudanese and Somali citizens) are of a Christian background and are economically better off. They have children studying in Kenya schools and have the ability to pay fees. They even employ the local Turkana people to fetch water and do household chores. These may be slow to move back to their countries of origin.
  • The probable increase of Somali citizens, with their business acumen, money, a distinctive culture and a strong commitment to Islamic ways, will have an effect on the many young people in the entire area – both inside and outside the confines of the Camp (an area of about 25 square kilometres).
  • The present “donor fatigue” is likely to increase for a variety of reasons.

The Catholic Church

1.   The Past

  1. Since July 1992, priests have been present to care for the pastoral needs of the refugees and those assisting them in the Camp.
  2. A system of Catechists and Small Christian Communities was set up and has greatly helped the people from the various nationalities.
  3. Limited help in education outside the camp has been provided for the children of the refugees, as well as resources for learning inside the camp (libraries, audio-visual centres, etc.).
  4. The nearby Catholic Mission Hospital has served the health needs of the refugees since the Camp was established.
  5. The Salesians of Don Bosco have provided technical and vocational training for the refugees since May 1993. With their particular charism for helping the youth, they have assisted the many thousands of young people to grow to maturity.
  6. The Jesuit Relief Services have been active in counselling, trauma healing and “distance learning”.
  7. Sisters from various Congregations have contributed to the well-being of many people in the camp – especially the women.
  8. Six permanent churches were built in various sections of the camp.
  9. Many workshops on both religious and secular issues have been provided over the years.
  10. Since the beginning of 2007, catechists and other teachers of religion have received training, specifically in anticipation of their returning to their countries of origin.

2.    The Future

  • After recent discussions (May 2008), it has been agreed that the Technical and Vocational School, administered by the Salesians of Don Bosco will continue. Necessary adjustments will be made. A number of possibilities are being discussed.
  • As many of the recently-prepared catechists and teachers of religion have actually returned to their countries of origin, thirty more are being trained at present.
  • There were over 120 boys and girls in the “Vocations Club” who had expressed interest in the priesthood and religious life, who have returned to their countries of origin. These will need follow-up.
  • Camp schools (16 primary and 2 secondary) will become a “community project” from 2009. The probable result will be an increase in enrolment outside the camp and increased repatriation. The future of these “community controlled” schools is highly problematic.
  • It will be necessary to rationalize pastoral commitments in the Camp with the pastoral agents in the neighbouring parish of Good Shepherd, Kakuma. Discussions are scheduled to begin in July 2008.
  •  As the strategies adopted by UNHCR and GOK continue to evolve, and due to the continuous, changing political situation in all the countries concerned, Kakuma Refugee Camp will need careful and continuous monitoring. It is inevitable that other decisions will need to be taken.


              H.E. Msgr. Patrick Joseph  Harrington

                   Bishop of Lodwar