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Geographies of displacement : gender, culture and power in UNHCR refugee camps, Kenya Hyndman, M. Jennifer


The end of the Cold War marks a period of human displacement greater in scale than any other this century. The number of refugees in 1995 numbered over 16 million; a conservative estimate of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the same year was 26 million. Approximately 36% of the worlds' refugees and half of all IDPs are located in continental Africa, suggesting an uneven world geography of forced migration. This research analyzes the 'safe spaces' where displaced people seek protection from threats of persecution and violence. In particular, it examines the major humanitarian organization providing assistance to involuntary migrants, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), both at its headquarters in Geneva and in the context of refugee camps administered by the agency in Kenya. As resettlement targets in countries like Canada, the U.S., and Australia decline, many states hosting large numbers of refugees are less interested in allowing refugees to integrate or settle locally. In the case of Kenya, most refugees have the choice between returning home on a voluntary basis or staying in the camps. A few are resettled abroad and many more seek unofficial livelihoods beyond the borders of the camps. Questions of legal status, social and spatial segregation, and camp management constitute the major themes of this study. The legal framework which defines refugee status and entitlements originated after the Second World War and has, with few exceptions, become increasing irrelevant to crises of displacement in African locations. Ad hoc measures on the part of UNHCR to accommodate refugees who fall outside the 1951 definition have been flexible but insufficient. Camps have become more permanent, suspending refugees in 'safe spaces' without many political, social, cultural, and economic rights. The organization of the camps is scrutinized in detail for its relation to colonial administrations, the impact of its design and operations for refugee women and men, and the correspondence of UNHCR policy to practice in the field. The research contributes to the practice, politics, theory, and geography of humanitarian responses to human displacement.

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