Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant 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
- Since July 1992, priests have been present to
care for the pastoral needs of the refugees and those assisting them
in the Camp.
- A system of Catechists and Small Christian
Communities was set up and has greatly helped the people from the
- 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
- The nearby Catholic Mission Hospital has
served the health needs of the refugees since the Camp was
- 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.
- The Jesuit Relief Services have been active
in counselling, trauma healing and “distance learning”.
- Sisters from various Congregations have
contributed to the well-being of many people in the camp –
especially the women.
- Six permanent churches were built in various
sections of the camp.
- Many workshops on both religious and secular
issues have been provided over the years.
- 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
Bishop of Lodwar