While the Arab Spring and its resulting political upheavals have firmly held the world's attention over the past two years, the Middle East's conflicts are, sadly, far from the only ones going on. Wars in North, West, and East Africa have displaced millions of people and killed untold more. Those lucky enough to escape with their lives often end up living in a squalorous political limbo in one of these massive "temporary" encampments—like nine of the largest, below.
While Sudan's second civil war may have won autonomy for the South, it cost nearly half a million lives and displaced an estimated 2,850,000 civilians. More than 630,000 of these people fled over the border to the relative safety of UN refugee camps in neighboring Kenya. The largest such camps, Dadaab and Alinjurgur, are now home to some 474,000 people. [UN HCR - Image: AP Images]
Between the ongoing unrest and famine in Somalia, the Second Sudanese Civil War, and a flood of Eritreans fleeing Isaias Afewerki's dictatorship, Ethiopia's refugee population has doubled in the past two years to over 370,000 people. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, refugees were streaming in at the rate of 1,200 people every week. While the Sudanese primarily settle in the nearby Assosa region and the Eritreans stick to the Afar and Tigray regions, some 206,000 Somali refugees—overwhelmingly women and children—call the five camps at Doll Ado home. [UN HCR - Image: JRS USA]
The Kakuma Refugee Camp is an other major Kenyan refugee center located in the Northwest corner of the country. Established in 1992, its location near the Sudanese border has made Kakuma an attractive destination for those fleeing the bloody Sudanese civil war, as well as people from Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Problem is, Kakuma can only support 100,000 residents and, as of last July, had topped that figure. Through the first seven months of the year alone, the camp's population grew 12 percent and there's little sign that the flow of refugees will slow any time soon.
"The threat of conflict in neighboring countries, particularly Sudan and South Sudan, is expected to continue to drive asylum seekers toward Kenya for the remainder of the year and into 2013," said Guy Avognon, UNHCR's Head of Sub-Office in Kakuma, in a press statement last year. [UN HCR - Image: The Solutions Journal]
Jordan's Zaatari (مخيم الزعتري) Refugee Camp is practically brand new, having opened July 2012, but already hosts some 144,000 displaced Syrians who have fled from the Syrian Civil War. Terrifyingly, with 144k residents, Zaatari camp is technically Jordan's fourth most populous city. Its so big that a second, 60,000 resident camp was built 12.5 miles down the road to house the overflow of refugees.
It operates much like a city as well. The camp features a central market where produce and domestic goods can be purchased, as well as coffee shops and other urban services. Conversely, the camp is also struggling with common urban problems including prostitution and drug-dealing. Food shortages in the camp are routine, which has made demonstrations by the camp populace commonplace. [Wikipedia - Image: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]
Jabalia (جباليا) in the Gaza Strip is both a refugee camp and city, located 2.5 miles north of Gaza City. Established in 1948 at the end of the Arab-Israeli war, Jabalia is the largest of the Gaza Strip's eight refugee camps with a population of more than 144,000 people. Geographically, however, it is quite small, covering barely 345 acres, a half mile square—that's roughly 104 square feet of living space per person. And Jabalia residents are being squeezed even more with between 1,500 and 2,000 refugees arriving per day, not to mention the Israeli blockade of Gaza which has caused massive unemployment and severely diminished the availability of basic supplies like food and water. [ISM Palestine]
On the Western African coast, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is being inundated with asylum seekers fleeing the violence in northern Mali that began in January of last year. By August, more than 100,000 Malians, mostly Tuaregs, had crossed the border in search of shelter, with hundreds more arriving daily.
Current estimates put the population of Mbera Camp at roughly 80,000 people, however the camp continually struggles to provide even basic humanitarian services. Half the camp's residents lack adequate shelter, all the residents subsist of half rations of water (consuming just ten of the 20 liters per day), malnutrition is rampant and severe, and some 80 percent of the school-aged children at the camp have no access to education. [UN HCR - Image: Council on Foreign Relations]
Not everybody from the Sudanese Civil War has had to flee to Kenya—many have taken up residence in South Sudan at the Yida settlement in Unity state. As with the other refugee camps in the region, Yida's population has exploded over the last few years thanks to regional conflicts. It grew from 20,000 residents in 2011 to more that 50,000 a year later.
Yida is far from an ideal refugee camp (if there even is such a thing). It's located in a wetland a few miles from the Sudanese border. It's difficult to get to, even harder to supply, and in the rainy season, the wetlands flood, turning the camp into an island.
"This is the most threatening situation I have ever seen in a refugee camp. Not only because it is close to a war zone, but because of access—all things have to be brought in by plane," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said during a visit last year. [All Africa - Image: Getty]
Despite its name, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the least stable countries in Africa. Since 1996, it's been embroiled in the regional Congo Wars. Over the past 17 years even conservative estimates put the total death toll at 900,000 to 5,400,000 people—as many as half of them children under 5—on account of widespread disease and famine. And though the warring factions did sign a UN-backed peace accord this past February, it has done little to affect the displaced yet.
Instead, some 70,000 refugees have turned to the Nakivale refugee camp in South Western Uganda. Established in 1962, Nakivale is one of the largest and oldest camps in all of Africa. Its population is incredibly diverse with people from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Eritrea living alongside one another in the settlement.
Nakivale is slowly growing into a permanent city. Given the near two decade duration of the Congo Wars alone, many young people have no roots to the countries that their parents fled—Nakivale is the only home they've known. [Anne Ackermann - Image: AP Images]
The Nyarugusu Camp in Tanzania is located in the western province of Kigoma, Tanzania. Established in 1996 to accommodate refugees from the First Congo War, it once housed more than 100,000 people but is now on the verge of closing. Between the region's improving stability (outside of the DRC, of course) and the country's reluctance to accept further asylum seekers, the flood of incoming refugees has slowed to a trickle.
Currently, some 63,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain at Nyarugusu, though the recent increase in violence in the DRC could well send more refugees over the border and further complicate the camp's closing. [UN - Images: UN HCR]
Don't like what you see here? Good. Contact the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find out how you can help.