WebMD Health Foundation, Rancho Santa Fe, CA, USA
A refugee camp is a temporary shelter built to house people who have fled their homes due to conflict or natural disaster. Refugee camps are run by governments, the United Nations, international organizations, or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Most people who live in the camps are refugees who have fled their home country but can also be Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs); refugees and IDPs are civilians displaced by persecution, war, or violence. Approximately 67 million people have been forced to leave their homes due to conflict or natural disaster: 16 million are refugees and 51 million are IDPs.
When people flee their homes, they are usually forced to leave behind their belongings. The government or humanitarian agency running the refugee camp provides refugees with clean water, food, and basic health care, but depending on the location of the camp and the political climate of the country in which the camp is located, it may take weeks for the camp inhabitants to receive any assistance. Security for a refugee camp is usually the responsibility of the host country and is provided by the military or local police. The number of people living in the camp depends on the crisis from which they have fled. Camps are usually established on the outskirts of towns or cities, away from the border, in a secure area. Some countries mandate that camps be enclosed with barbed wire fence so the refugees do not interact with the local people.
There is a reception center where newly arrived refugees check in and are counted. This is important in order for aid agencies to keep track of the number of people in the camp, assess their needs, and provide enough food, water, and medical supplies. When a new refugee is registered, he/she is given relief items such as clothing, blankets, and cooking utensils.
Food is kept in a storage warehouse and is distributed to the women in the camp on a set schedule. Food is given to women since they are responsible for the cooking and will ensure everyone is fed. Rations that adhere to cultural diets are provided. The minimum recommended daily ration is 2,100 calories per adult. Breastfeeding mothers may receive additional food. Examples of the types of food distributed include rice, wheat, or maize; beans, lentils, or peas; vegetable oil or butter; a fortified blended food such as corn soya blend; sugar; and salt. The minimum amount of water each person in the camp should receive is one gallon per day in an emergency situation. The amount should increase to 6 gallons per day so people have enough water for cooking, personal hygiene, and washing clothes and dishes.
Though the camps are meant to be temporary solutions, giving people a place to live until they can return home, refugees and Internally Displaced Persons can live in camps for years while they await resettlement in other countries or, for IDPs, conflict to be resolved in their home countries. In some cases, camps have existed for decades and turn into permanent settlements or become part of the local community where the camp is located.
American Refugee Committee International. (n.d.). The global refugee crisis. Retrieved May 10, 2010, from http://www.arcrelief.org/site/PageServer
CBC News. (2007, June 19). Anatomy of a refugee camp. Retrieved May 10, 2010, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/refugeecamp/index.html
Schapp, Y. (2008, December 9). Refugee camps worldwide. Retrieved April 25, 2010, from http://www.millionsoulsaware.org