In Africa

One of the biggest camps in the world from the eyes of insider
in africa

One of the biggest camps in the world from the eyes of insider
Ivan Charnetski

© UNHCR/I.Charnetski

Taken: May 2014 – April 2016
Published: 20 June 2016

Kakuma camp (Kenya) is one of the biggest refugee camps in Africa. In May this year, the Kenyan government announced the closure of Kakuma and Dadaab fugee camps.
We dedicate this publication in honor of World Refugees Day, which is today, on 20th of June. UNHCR launched an initiative by signing a petition to the world's governments urging them to act with solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of refugees.
* ByalaPhotoFest – is an informal workshop symposium for photographers in the Bulgarian town, Byala. It will be held for the second time in September 2016 with support of FRONT.PHOTO
Artem Chernov, FRONT.PHOTO:

I am glad to present you the first publication in the wake of the September's last year ByalaPhotoFest*.

The author of this publication was the one who opened the series of portfolio reviews, the main programme of the event. Ivan, is an amateur photographer in fact, but his presentation immediately grabbed the attention of our "fancy" Russian-Bulgarian mini photo symposium.

First of all, the flow of the refugees was moving throughout the Europe, starting in the neighbouring Balkan states and this topic was always on the top of the agenda in the conversations, both with the locals and visitors. The pictures are taken by an insider, UN personnel, not journalist, and the fact that they were made in the one of the biggest refugee camps inevitably attracted attention.

Secondly, Ivan is really taking interesting pictures, what I hope you will be able to make sure yourself, our dear readers.

Since the presentation in September last year, Ivan managed to finalize other photo stories in Kakuma from his mission there as well. He has been transferred to another region where he will continue to work with refugees. Now, the refugee camps in Kenya are under threat of closure – in May 2016 Kenyan government announced that the country is no longer able to support several hundreds of thousands people, who fled from the surrounding wars throughout dozens of years.
South Sudanese refugees marching on the streets of the camp during the Christmas. They start preparing well in advance and every parish has its own "uniform", which is different from the "uniforms" of the other parishes. Musical instruments, flags and banners are being used.
The author, Ivan Charnetski:

I am a UNHCR personnel and from May 2014 to April 2016 was working as an Associate Resettlement Officer in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. I have a Diploma in Law and though I started to fall in love with photography a long time ago, it ended up being something I deliberately pursued only after my arrival to Africa.
Frankly speaking I was mostly doing office work in Kakuma and was only able to take pictures during the weekends or when on assignment in the camp. Usually, I managed to take pictures of a particular event, such as World Refugee Day or International Women's Day, when we were dealing with the consequences of flooding, or assisting with the elections of the camp's block leaders. As a person, who spent 2 years there, I had a chance to look at the events from the inside and be part of it.
I tried to choose the pictures which would reflect the atmosphere of this unusual place. The publication is an attempt if not to explain Kakuma, then to show it at least.*
* Opinions, assessments and remarks presented in this publication, do not reflect the official position of UNHCR and reflect only the opinions of the author and the editor, who both represent themselves only acting as private persons.
The picture above and the cover picture:
Food Distribution Center. As a result of donors assistance decrease, UNHCR and WFP had to cut the refugees food rations in half at the end of 2014. Nyachot, a refugee from South Sudan is on the picture. She has just received the
reduced ration, for her and three of her children.
During the mass in the Catholic church in Kakuma town. The camp was named after the name of the settlement it was situated next to. The church members are refugees and local Turkana people.

Nyachot, a South Sudanese refugee, is sitting on the mat with her children near her house.
In one of the camp's school, during the rainy season, after the floods. Though Kakuma is situated in a very arid area, two times a year, during the rainy seasons there is a risk of flooding. As a result of one of them, one of the classrooms was damaged and children move the tables and benches to the other room. Not everyone can attend school as some of the children have to assist their families with daily breadwinning.

Girls often have to drop out because of the stereotypes about the role of a women in the society and early marriages. There is approximately the same proportion of boys and girls when they start learning in a primary school, however, this changes drastically by the time they finish, when girls constitute a minority.
Christmas's religious procession. The man in the centre of a frame leads a group of participants behind his back.
Ivan Charnetski:

My responsibilities in Kakuma were to deal with resettlement of the refugees from the camp to the third countries. Resettlement is one of the three durable solutions and is given to only three percent of the refugees globally. Two other options are local integration in the country of asylum or voluntary repatriation to their country of origin.
Rain in the camp.
This is a new part of the camp. There is no fencing or market yet. Old parts of the camp look like an outskirt of a big town. There is no limit of the time for how long someone may stay in the camp and many have been living here for decades. There are people who had returned home but have had to come back to the camp because of the worsened situation in their countries of origin. The woman is being driven by a motorcyclist. He and others like him constitute the transport system of the camp. In a place where it is often difficult to feed yourself and your family it is very costly to get private means of transport, though distances may be long, this is no surprise for a settlement of almost 200 000 people. That is why the services of such motorcyclists (they call them boda-bodas), many of whom are refugees themselves, are in high demand. As my colleagues explained to me, sometime ago, motorcyclists were offering their services in bringing people to the border with Uganda which is very close to Kakuma. And they used to shout the English word "border" when attracting the potential customers, that is how they ended up becoming boda-bodas.
During the Christmas religious procession in the camp. South Sudanese refugee, dressed in the same way as the other members of his parish holds the flagpole. Religion has its important place in the life of the camp. Many refugees find their identity in active religious position and regular attendance of houses of worships, which they try to make as much as possible as the ones they have at home.
Nyachot, a South Sudanese refugee, sits with her children against her house's wall.
In the compound. There are three different types of settlements in Kakuma: the camp itself, then it is a Kakuma town, the place which gave the camp the name and there are also several compounds where humanitarian agencies' personnel live in.
The flooding destroyed the wall in one of the classrooms. The pupil is sitting on his usual place. Many have to finish even the primary school at the very advanced age, as they did not have such an opportunity in their countries for different reasons, mostly because of wars and armed conflicts.
In the school for especially challenged children. It is difficult to get qualified psychiatric or psychological assistance in the camp, though many are in need as they have suffered horrible things, have been subjected to violence and torture, and are also experiencing the consequences of post traumatic syndrome.
During the young performers' competition, called "Kakuma Got Talents". More than the half of the camp's population are women and children.
"We are Kakuma" is a professional video about the camp which was fully made and edited by the young refugees from the camp with the assistance of an international non-governmental organization called FilmAid (
Girls are preparing to go to the stage to take part in the framework of "Kakuma got talents" competition.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. "
Kakuma camp was established in 1992 for the Lost Boys of Sudan.

The camp's populations has drastically increased in 2014 due to the worsening situation in South Sudan. At that moment, the camp was supposed to host 125.000 people. Now the number of the residents of the camp is at 192,218 people of which, 100, 657 are from South Sudan.

Refugees from Somali, Ethiopia, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo constitute other major populations. Representatives of 21 different nationalities reside in the camp.
Legs of Nyachot and her daughter are covered in clay. They have prepared it to later apply to the walls of their house.
Above, the first picture: Senior pupils wait for their breakfast in the school damaged by floods. The breakfast is a porridge in a red plastic cup.
The second picture: After the flooding near one of the schools. Every instance of flooding is scary not only because of the direct damages but also because of the possibility of outbreak of cholera or other diseases, including malaria resulting from an increase in the number of mosquitos due to to the presence of standing water. But children are still children, and enjoy running in the puddles, which are very rare here.

During the rainy season one of the humanitarian organization's personnel brings the rocks in order to strengthen the building in the compound in case of possible flooding.
Kakuma is a very arid place and the wood is from somewhere else. It is being stored for further usage in the construction of the new buildings in the camp.
Somali boy, specially dressed for Friday prayer. When there is no rain for a long periods of time there are sand storms in Kakuma, and sand and dust goes everywhere.
Ivan Charnetski:

Kakuma is a unique place, there are representatives of 21 nationalities living here. Initially when the camp was built, it was meant for 23.000 people only, mostly young Sudanese, who were forced to leave their country because of the civil war in the beginning of 90s.

But now people from almost every country of Sub-Saharan Africa live in Kakuma. The majority are from the youngest state, South Sudan as of today. Some of them had been in Kakuma before and were repatriated but had to return back in a while because of the danger for their lives and the lives of their children.
Blackboard in one of the classrooms.
The morning following the day after flooding, pupils are preparing for their classes.
Above, first picture: One of the classrooms, damaged because of floods.
Second picture: During the Epiphany celebration in orthodox Ethiopian church in the camp .
During the Sunday service in catholic church in Kakuma town.
Clowns performing for the children in the camp. The story of the international non-governmental organization, Clowns Without Borders, started when a professional clown from Spain was invited to perform in a refugee camp in Croatia in the beginning of the 90s. There was a performance for children in Kakuma in 2015 shown on this picture.
Children run home as their classes have finished.
Evening in the compound where the personnel of the humanitarian organizations live in.
Young adult play checkers by using a self-made board and Sprite and Coca Cola caps. One of the most common problems mentioned by the young people in the camp is the absence of education and work opportunities.
Religious procession run by the South Sudanese refugees every Christmas.
Above, the first picture: South Sudanese refugees perform traditional dance. Here one of the youngsters simulates a tilt towards the others when they must avoid the "stroke" or beat it back.
The second picture: During the South Sudanese's religious procession.
Boys observe the election in one of the school. The camp consists of four parts and each one is divided in zones and blocks. The end of the election process of the representatives of every block is pictured here. Later they will represent the interests of their neighbours and be the link between the refugees and the organizations who assist them.
During the election of the representatives of the blocks, every voter has to mark his or her finger with a permanent ink. The hands of the woman who was in charge of controlling it are pictured herein.
A girl observes the election and ensures that nothing incorrect is thrown into the ballot box situated right in front of her. She brought her baby, most likely because she could not found anyone to leave her with. Many young women in Kakuma have to raise their children all by themselves as their husbands have died or disappeared on the way to the camp.
Every refugee in the camp has a ration card which is a document with a bar code and a number and is used for receiving food ration. The registration of the voters on the basis of the presented rations cards is pictured herein.
Young pupils of one of the camp's school.

Ivan Charnetski:

As of 19.06.2016 the number of dead or missing at the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe was 2868 persons. There are also Kakuma refugees among them.

When I was asking people in Kakuma why would they put their lives in danger undertaking such a risky journey, there were replying that the chance to get an opportunity of living a decent life or dying, is better than life without future.

Those who are risking their lives are mostly young people, often they do it secretly from their parents.
Somewhere in the camp.
Girl from South Sudan performing traditional dance.
Sub Saharan African countries are hosting now 4.4 million refugees, higher than in any other region of the world.
65.3 million people forced to flee in a today's world
Children constitute more than a half of the refugees' population globally.
About the author of the pictures:

Ivan Charnetski is a UNHCR personnel, he was working as an Associate Resettlement Officer in Kakuma refugee camp from May 2014 to April 2016. He is a lawyer by his background. He started to be enthusiastic about photography a few years ago. In 2014-2015 he participated in Artem Chernov's course on basics of composition. Attended ByalaPhotoFest in September 2015.
Ivan's FB-account

Ivan Charnetski
UNHCR personnel
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