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This article transports discussions on the geographies of occupation to the refugee camp and infers that rethinking militarised policing in camps as a form of occupation brings into sharper relief the everyday violence of humanitarian governance. While most research on the administration of camps has focused on the biopolitical control of humanitarian agencies and NGOs that register, sustain, and manage refugee lives in exile, far less is known about the role of the police and paramilitary. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, this article provides an alternative reading of the militarised spatialities of the camp, in which Kenya's (post)colonial disposition for state violence has merged indistinguishably with the contemporary securitisation of refugees, and the humanitarian need for unobstructed management of aid operations. This article proposes that these converging trajectories have transformed the refugee camp into a zone under military-style occupation: an ‘occupied enclave’. In this tightly controlled space, Kenyan police act as enforcers of humanitarian violence that is inflicted on a civilian population of refugees with precarious life chances and limited freedom of movement. This is analysed through four domains of occupation – architecture, bureaucracy, physical force and material extraction – that work in conjunction to produce violent spatial effects of immobility, exclusion, and exception. Revisiting the camp through this lens bridges the gap between the literatures on humanitarian governance and military occupation and reiterates the continuing importance of enclave spaces for governing mobile and unwanted populations.

More information Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





67 - 77


Refugee camp, Policing, Militarisation, Occupation, Enclave, Humanitarian violence, Humanitarianism, Kenya, Kakuma