Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Everything I would have wanted to know before conducting research in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya

  • It’s hot. But sometimes it’s less hot. When I came here in the end of March, it was about 39 degrees… now in middle of April it is about 31. And there is little bit of rain. The difference of 8 degrees is HUGE. It does not feel hot now any more…well…maybe almost. But it was really hot when they daily temperature was 39 and in the evening 36. So. Check the temperatures for different seasons and don’t come when it’s around 40 degrees. However, after experiencing rainy season I am not even sure, which one is worse. While 39 during the day and 36 in the evening is really awfully hot, the rainy season is not better. When it rains, then it RAINS A LOT. This means that the roads in Kakuma camp are unpassable by motorbike and difficult to pass by car. The schedules of agency employees are often unpredictable and it is difficult to try to find a place in one of their cars for every day trips to camp, therefore motorbike taxis provide a lot of freedom for a researcher. But motorbike taxis do not drive when it rains or after rain the roads are dangerous and very slowly passable. You might go to the camp an get stuck after the rain. Moreover, there are occasional and unpredictable floods, and rivers in Kakuma area can become unpassable in minutes and cars might wait for few hours up to few days to get through. We waited for 2-3 hours behind one river and more than 24 hours behind another one. So, just be ready for tough environment.  
    Typical view in camp during rainy season
  • Permits. You need 2 permits as a researcher: DRA and Research permit. You can not get DRA permit for research without research permit. In Kakuma, DRA permit is asked frequently by police, security, block leaders and agencies. You can apply online for both. Research permit should take 14 days to get. But this is Kenya...so be patient, call them when you have no answer and be ready to "camp" in their office to actually get it. DRA permit is more straight forward. Send application via e-mail and usually you should collect it in Nairobi. I would start with both applications latest 1 month before flight.
  1. Research permit: http://oris.nacosti.go.ke/
  2. DRA permit: http://forms.co.ke/forms/92_Immigration_Application-to-visit-Refugee-camps-in-Kenya.pdf
  • Accommodation. There is some kind of accommodation in town, but the choice is rather limited. If possible, try to organize accommodation with one of the organisations working in the camp. It can take time and it can be a difficult procedure, so start early. However, as soon as you get it fixed, you will get many advantages when staying at the compound of the agencies. It is worth it. However, if it does not work out via e-mails and phone calls, just go to Kakuma and start from the DRA office where you need to register yourself, they can suggest you suitable accommodation in Kakuma town.
    Room in LWF compbound, 2000 KES per night
  • Getting to Kakuma. Before traveling to Kakuma I read from everywhere that unless you are on a really tight budget, fly there. I read it, laughed and decided to do overland trip. There is a bus that should take 20 hours from Nairobi to Kakuma. However it is not a good, comfortable bus. So, I thought that I am very clever and took first the overnight easycoach from Nairobi to Kitale and thereafter I planned to get bus to Kakuma in the morning. In Kitale I was waiting for 8 hours before we finally started going with a land rover. It drove just crazy. So I got off from it in middle of the trip and took bus. Two nights without sleeping...was not easy. In the end I had to sleep in Lodwar before reaching to Kakuma, the trip took me 3 days in total and the total cost of the trip was over 6000 KES, while I could have got plane ticket to Lodwar with just few thousands more. There are quite frequent cars going from Lodwar to Kakuma, 2-3 hours. I flew back and it was such an easy trip compared to the neverending journey to Kakuma in 3 days... So, unless you really need such an adventure in your life, I recommend seriously: TAKE A FLIGHT! Moreover, when it is a rainy season...do not risk to get stuck for days which has happened numerous times to so many people. TAKE A FLIGHT!

  • Transportation in Kakuma. The agency employees use only their private cars and bus. However, motorbike taxis are available and the fees are: short trip 50 KES; Kakuma 2,3 = 150 KES; Kakuma 4= 150-200 KES.

  • Safety. Stay in camp only 6AM to 6 PM. Around 5.30 might be difficult to get motorbike back home as since 6 PM police might stop the motorbikes going in and out of camp due to the regulations.
  • Refugees. Generally, refugees are very helpful as long as they are approached through their block leader and you take time to explain them who you are and why you want to interview them. Taking photos is mostly not problematic, but it is good to be with somebody who knows the people and language.
  • Agencies. Interviewing the agency's employee requires the agreement by the field manager or director. Provide documents on your research aim and sample questions, your research permit and DRA letter. The best would be to email them first and then follow up by phone call after few days. However, if there is not much time, just visit the office with necessary documents. Do not try to get interview without this procedure.
  • Food. You can buy food daily in case you stay with agency, for about 550-600 KES a day, also there might be a cafeteria in the compound. In Kakuma, the best eating place is in Lucky gas station which is few kilometers away from town, however it can be bargained to 50 KES one way on motor bike. In Kakuma town there are not many cafeterias to choose from and those that are there offer ugali, sukuma, beans and chapati. There are some small shops in Kakuma town, but choice is not too big. In the refugee camp, there are nice eating places in the Ethiopian part of Kakuma 1 and Somalian part. EnjoY!

  • Overall, Kakuma refugee camp is a great experience and if you have an opportunity, you should definitely use it.

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