Camp Settlement and Communal Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa

Kerstin Fisk

Journal of Peace Research, Volume 56, Issue 1 (2019), Pages 58-72


This article explores whether areas that host encamped refugees are more likely to experience communal conflict, and under what conditions? Past research indicates that settling refugees in camps can intensify inter-communal tension in host communities. (The paper includes a review of the literature on the security implications of hosting refugees.) The author investigates the relationship between settling refugees in camps and communal conflict—conflict between non-state groups formed along communal identity lines—in 39 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. She first examines whether there is a general relationship between the overall presence and population intensity of encamped refugees and communal conflict, and then examines whether the effect of refugee encampment on communal conflict is moderated either by interethnic linkages or political and economic marginalization within the host region. Key results:

  • Communal conflict occurs more frequently in regions where refugees are camp-settled. Regions hosting camps in general, as well as those hosting greater population intensities of camp-based refugees, experience significantly higher rates of communal conflict at the subnational level.
  • Refugee camps have a significant marginal effect on conflict only if they are located in areas with politically marginalized host groups. The author finds some suggestive evidence that the relationship between encampment and communal conflict is stronger in areas where host groups are politically marginalized.
  • Origin country/host region ethnic ties exert significant moderating effects.
  • The form of refugee settlement matters, as the presence and population intensity of self-settled refugees are related to decreases in the occurrence of communal conflict.

These results indicate that while host governments attempt to justify refugee encampment policies on security grounds, congregating refugees in camps can reduce the physical security of refugees and hosts alike. The findings imply that policies could be designed to reduce the likelihood that host regions experience such violence, e.g. by redressing host population marginalization and bolstering mutually beneficial economic and social interactions between locals and refugees.