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Camps: literature review

Refugee policy in the South has been largely driven by the demands of donors and humanitarian organisations (Karadawi 1984). It requires rethinking, both in terms of the needs of refugees and their hosts (RSP 1991). Assistance policies have encouraged the confinement of large numbers of refugees in settlements or camps, rendering them dependent on relief (Kibreab 1989, 1991; Voutira and Harrell-Bond 1995; Hyndman 1997). Camps deprive refugees of access to networks of social and economic support and there is evidence that over the long term even those camps deemed self-sufficient become destitute (Clark and Stein 1985). Focusing assistance on refugees in camps ignores the needs of the majority of refugees who are self-settled (Chambers 1979; Hansen 1979, 1981, 1982, 1982a). Attracting money not only requires counting refugees for the purposes of assessing need but involves controlling their movement and representing them as helpless and dependent (Harrell-Bond et al 1992). Despite this being an inordinately expensive way of assisting refugees and, in practice, contravening most of their rights (African Rights 1997), host governments have acquiesced in order to become eligible for international aid. The popular media image of the refugee as a 'problem’, rather than as 'persons with problems’, has obscured the reality that refugees are ready to put their energies into productive work which could also benefit their hosts (Wilson 1992; Harrell-Bond 1986; Bulcha 1988; Kuhlman 1990).

Confinement to settlements/camps has been demonstrated to have a number of adverse effects on both refugees and hosts (Chambers 1985; Nieburg et al 1992). Establishing parallel services undermines local institutions by attracting the best staff to earn the higher salaries paid by humanitarian organisations (Goyen et al 1996). Targeting relief to camps, surrounded by people often as poor or poorer than refugees, is wasteful and generates hostility from local communities (Harrell-Bond 1986, Chap 4). Life in camps adversely affects the mental health of already traumatised people and inhabitants frequently exhibit despair and helplessness at their long-term prospects and the combination of confinement and dependency encouraging them to abandon social responsibilities (Clark 1985). Congregating refugees strains local resources, including the environment, more than does a dispersed population (Black 1994); it also represents a health risk by increasing exposure to disease (Toole and Bhatia 1992). There is a clear link between the size of camps and mortality rates (van Damme 1995).

There is a common fear that those who are able to achieve economic stability in the host country will never return but repatriation has proven to be destabilising to the country of origin (Harrell-Bond 1994). Nevertheless, the long-term goal of most governments (host and donor) is that refugees will repatriate, and common sense and experience suggest that people impoverished by an economy based on relief will be unable to return without enormous investment in their economic rehabilitation, while those able to acquire the resources in exile are likely to return voluntarily when conditions are conducive (Sepulveda 1994). Where governments have been able to provide sufficient land to sustain a population and where they have not imposed restrictions on movement or their employment within the wider economy, refugees have proven to be an economic asset (Kuhlman 1989; Mollett 1991; Harrell-Bond 1996). In cases where host governments have maintained control of refugee policy, using international aid to expand their economies as a whole, it has benefited both refugees and local populations (Zetter 1992). In the process, they have avoided the inevitable tensions which result from earmarking aid for certain beneficiaries (Harrell-Bond 1986, Chap 4; Chambers 1985).


Dr B E Harrell-Bond, founder of the Refugee Studies Programme and director until January 1997, is currently a University Research Lecturer at the RSP, University of Oxford.



Black R (1994) 'Forced migration and environmental change: the impact of refugees on host environments’, Journal of Environmental Management 42, 261-277

Bulcha M (1988) 'Flight and integration’, Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala.

Chambers R (1979) 'Rural refugees in Africa: What the eye does not see’, Disasters, 3(4) 1979; (1985) 'Hidden losers' The impact of rural refugees in refugee programmes on the poorer hosts’, International Migration Review, Vol xx, No 2.243-263

Clark L (1985) 'The refugee dependency syndrome: physician health thyself’, Washington DC, Refugee Policy Group

Clark L and Stein B (1985) 'Older refugee settlements in Africa: A final report’, Washington DC, Refugee Policy Group

Goyen P D, Soron’gane E M, Tonglet R, Hennart P and Vis H (1996) 'Humanitarian aid and health services in Eastern Kivu, Zaire: Collaboration or competition’, Journal of Refugee Studies (JRS), Vol 9, No 3

Hansen A (1979) 'Once the running stops: assimilation of Angolan refugees into Zambian border villages’, Disasters 3-4, 369-74; (1981) 'Refugee dynamics: Angolans in Zambia, 1966-1972', International Migration Review, Vol 15, No ; (1982) 'Self-settled rural refugees in Africa: the case of Angolans in Zambian villages’ in Hansen & Smith (eds) Involuntary Migration and Resettlement: The Problems and Responses of Dislocated People, Westview Press 13-35

Harrell-Bond B E, Voutira E and Leopold M (1992) 'Counting the refugees: gifts, givers, patrons and clients’, JRS, Vol 5 (3/4), pp 205-225

Harrell-Bond B E (1994) 'Pitch the tents’, The New Republic, Sept 19&26; (1986) 'Imposing Aid: Emergency Assistance to Refugees, Oxford University Press; (1996) 'Refugees and the reformulation of international aid policies: What donor governments can do’ in Schmid (ed) Whither Refugee?, LISWO, Leiden

Hyndman M J (1996) 'Geographies of displacement: gender, culture and power in UNHCR refugee camps, Kenya’, PhD Thesis, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, September

Karadawi A (1983) 'Constraints on assistance to refugees: Some observations from the Sudan’, World Development, Vol 11, No 6, pp 537-547

Kibreab G (1989) 'Local settlement in Africa: A misconceived option? Concepts of local settlement and local integration’ JRS, Oxford University Press; (1991) 'The state of the art review of refugee studies in Africa’, Uppsala, Paper in Economic History

Kuhlman T (1990) Burden or Boon? A Study of Eritrean Refugees in the Sudan, Anthropological Studies VU no 13, UV University Press, Amsterdam

Mollett J A (1991) Migrants in Agricultural Development, London, Macmillan

Morss E (1984) 'Institutional destruction resulting from donor and project proliferation in the sub-Saharan countries’, World Development, Vol 12, No 4, 465-70

Nieburg P, Person-Karell B, and Toole M 'Malnutrition/mortality relationships among refugeesJRS, Vol 5

RSP (1991) Refugees as Resources for Development: Opportunities and Constraints, Report on Southern Africa Regional Workshop on Refugee Policy, Arusha, 22 September – 4 October 1991

Sepulveda D C (1994) 'Challenging the assumptions of repatriation: Is it the most desirable solution?’, RSP

Toole M and Bhatia R (1992) 'Somalie refugees in Hartisheik A Camp, Eastern Ethiopia’, JRS, Vol 5 (3/4)

Van Damme W (1995) 'Do refugees belong in camps? Experiences from Goma and Guinea’, The Lancet 346:360-362

Wilson K (1992) 'Enhancing refugees’ own food acquisition strategies’, JRS, Vol 5 (3/4)

Zetter R (1992) 'Refugees and forced migrants as development resources: the Greek Cypriot refugees from 1974’, Cyprus Review, Vol 4, No 1:7-38

Voutira E and Harrell-Bond B E (1995) 'In search of the locus of trust: the social world of the refugee camp’ in Daniel and Knudsen (eds) (Mis)Trusting Refugee

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