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Kakuma Camp Expanding to Support Influx from South Sudan

An aerial view shows recently constructed houses at the Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana District, northwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi, June 20, 2015.

The United Nations is expanding the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya to accommodate the influx of refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan. Nearly 50,000 people have fled to Kenya over the past year and a half.

It was once home to the so-called “lost boys” fleeing war in what was then a united Sudan. Now the sprawling refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya is set to grow once more to accommodate the swelling population of South Sudanese escaping their new country’s civil war.

UNHCR spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera said that before the conflict erupted in 2013, thousands of refugees were being repatriated and the camp was shrinking.

“For a while we thought that the population of refugees was going down, but then the new conflict that started in 2013 changed the landscape. Since then we’ve had almost 50,000 new arrivals. So we have to prepare ourselves to make sure that we decongest the camps in Kakuma,” he said.

Nyabera said the camp, currently home to around 180,000 refugees, is now well over its capacity. The planned new site should be able to accommodate 80,000, people, many of whom will be moved from the current site to relieve overcrowding.

There are around 17 nationalities in Kakuma, said Nyabera, including Somalis, Eritreans and Congolese refugees. But South Sudanese now make up the majority. For some, this is not their first stay in Kakuma refugee camp. Many had been repatriated, only to flee again once the newest conflict began.

South Sudan’s war has pitted forces loyal to president Salva Kiir against rebels supporting former vice president Riek Machar. Despite several failed peace deals, the violence has escalated. The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, recently reported that at least 129 children were killed in a government offensive last month, and rights groups have accused both sides of atrocities against civilians.