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Refugee Facts

Refugee Camps

Temporary facilities built to provide immediate protection and assistance to people forced to flee. Once a person becomes a refugee, they are likely to remain displaced for many years. It is a life in limbo.

What is a refugee camp?

Refugee camps are temporary facilities built to provide immediate protection and assistance to people who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution or violence. While camps are not established to provide permanent solutions, they offer a safe haven for refugees and meet their most basic needs such as food, water, shelter, medical treatment and other basic services during emergencies.

In situations of long-term displacement, the services provided in camps are expanded to include educational and livelihood opportunities as well as materials to build more permanent homes to help people rebuild their lives. These services are also offered to host communities. 

What services are provided at a refugee camp?


Planning and Design:

Within the first 72 hours after a new emergency, the UN Refugee Agency mobilizes response teams to assess the situation and coordinate with government authorities a “safe humanitarian space”   that guarantees the safety of the people being forced to flee -  in rural settings this is often a camp. 

The criteria for a safe humanitarian space includes the following:

A well-designed camp should protect the environment and help prevent fires and outbreaks of disease. Food, water access points and latrines should be properly lit and near shelters so as to protect women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and facilities should offer refugees the possibility to access the local economy, infrastructure and services of the host community.


How long do refugees live in camps?

The average length of time that refugees spend in camps varies depending on the crisis. In protracted refugee situations - where mass displacement has affected a country for five years or more -, refugees may spend years and even decades living in camps and it is common to have entire generations growing up in the camps.

In these situations, UNHCR provides more durable, semi-permanent shelter and works with communities to build those that best meet local conditions and needs. Services are also expanded to include educational and livelihood opportunities to help refugee families rebuild their lives.

Do all refugees live in refugee camps?

No, the vast majority of refugees (approximately 78 percent) live in cities. While urban locations offer more opportunities to live autonomously and find employment, they also pose major challenges as refugees are often forced to share accommodation or live in non-functional public buildings, collective centers, slums or other types of informal settlements with substandard living conditions.

Where are the largest refugee camps located?

There are refugee camps all over the world. Many of these camps were built quickly to serve the immediate needs of those forced to flee, but have grown to host hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Some of the world's largest refugee camps are: Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site (Bangladesh), Bidi Bidi refugee camp (Uganda), Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps (Kenya), Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps (Jordan), Nyarugusu, Nduta, and Mtendeli refugee camps (Tanzania) and Kebribeyah; Aw-barre and Sheder refugee camps (Ethiopia).

Kutupalong Expansion Site (Bangladesh)

Bidibidi refugee settlement (Uganda)

Kakuma Refugee camp (Kenya)

Dadaab refugee complex (Kenya)

Za’atari refugee camp (Jordan)

Azraq Refugee Camp (Jordan)

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