July 10, 2020

How do you shut down a refugee camp that is larger than 36 US capital cities?



By Alexis Herr

Genocide scholars and historians struggle to communicate the immensity of loss during mass violence. The iconic number of 6 million haunts Holocaust scholars in more ways than one. As an educator, how do you help your students grasp the immensity of loss? To put it another way, consider this: the Germans and their collaborators annihilated approximately 1.5 million children. Each life lost robbed the world of potential. We have missed out on all that such a large group of people could have accomplished had they had the chance to live. In short, numbers are difficult to communicate and as such we have to seek out ways to personalize or breakup large statistics so that we can be reminded of what each number represents: a life and all its potential.

Those who work on refugee issues face a similar challenge. The UN reports that at the end of 2015, the refugee population had reached 65.3 million, or one out of every 113 people on Earth. To help us better understand this gigantic number, let us narrow our focus by focusing on the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya.

Dadaab is the largest refugee camp complex in the world. According to a recent report released by the UNHCR on August 31, 2016 the current population is 276,945, which represents a significant decrease from the 338,043 registered refugees in July 2016 and the 423,496 refugees in April 2013. Kenya has repeatedly threatened to close down the camp (it is worth noting that its funding comes by and large from the UN and international aid groups).


To help us consider the number of 276,945 another way, let’s compare the number of refugees in the Dadaab camps to the populations of US city capitals.


Montgomery, Alabama (200,983)

Juneau, Alaska (31,118)

Little Rock Arkansas (184,081)

Hartford, Connecticut (124,848)

Dover, Delaware (32, 135)

Tallahassee, Florida (156,612)

Boise, Idaho (190,122)

Springfield, Illinois (114,738)

Des Moines, Iowa (194,311)

Topeka, Kansas (122,377)

Frankfort, Kentucky (27,741)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana (224,097)

Augusta, Maine (18,560)

Annapolis, Maryland (36,217)

Lansing, Michigan (116,941)

Jackson, Mississippi (179,298)

Jefferson City, Missouri (39,636)

Helena, Montana (25,780)

Lincoln, Nebraska (236, 146)

Concord, New Hampshire (40,687)

Trenton, New Jersey (85,402)

Santa Fe, New Mexico (62,203)

Albany, New York (95,658)

Bismarck, North Dakota (55,532)

Salem, Oregon (146,120)

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (48,950)

Providence, Rhode Island (178,126)

Columbia, South Carolina (116,331)

Pierre, South Dakota (13,876)

Salt Lake City, Utah (178,605)

Montpelier, Vermont (8,035)

Richmond, Virginia (192,494)

Olympia, Washington (42,514)

Charleston, West Virginia (53,421)

Madison, Wisconsin (220,332)

Cheyenne, Wyoming (55,362)


The Dadaab refugee camp complex has a higher population than 36 US capital cities. Given the fact that 1 in 13 people on the planet are refugees, the idea of simply closing down the Dadaab refugee camp fails to alleviate the source of the problem. And, to put it another way, shutting down a refugee complex that is larger than 36 US capital cities will not help those already residing in the camp.

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