KAKUMA, Kenya —The Kakuma refugee camp is 60 miles from Sudanese border, in the uppermost reaches of the arid Turkana region of Kenya. It was opened in 1992 to house the 16,000 “lost” girls and boys fleeing the war from Sudan. These days, the overcrowded facility is home to around 100,000 people, driven there by violence not only from Sudan but also Ethiopia, Congo, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi and a handful of other nations.
Kakuma does not look like a refugee camp in the movies, with rows of canvas tents ringed by barbed wire. Or rather, structures like that do exist, but that is where the aid workers live. Most of the refugees live in handmade huts, built of sticks, mud, metal scrap, and materials salvaged from aid packaging.
At the camp’s entrance, myriad signs list Kakuma’s sponsors, which include the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR), The Lutheran World Federation, The World Food Program and Handicap International. The latter advertises a “mine risk education program.” Poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions abound in the area.