Skip to main content

Half-a-Million refugees who don’t exist: Ben Rawlence’s “City of Thorns”

by Charles R. Larson

Unmarked on any official map, Dadaab—in eastern Kenya—is still today home to roughly 500,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia. You can follow it on Dadaabcamps.com. Dadaab was formed in 1992 to hold what was anticipated to be 90,000 refugees from Somalia’s civil war. When the war did not end and famine in the Horn of Africa exacerbated conditions, it grew to half a million refugees, though some estimates add a couple hundred thousand more. Its residents are forbidden from leaving, from building permanent homes, and from working. Entire families have grown up in the camp, initially fleeing al-Shabaab fundamentalism in Somalia. The United States and other Western governments have supported the camp, the UN managed it, and the Kenyan forces policed it—all this until the Kenyan government officially closed it, in 2014.

The existence of Dadaab (composed, actually, of several camps) has always been complicated. Kenya didn’t want the Somalis, who considered the area, historically, their own land. The camp’s explosive growth, especially during the drought of 2011, was not anticipated. UN resources for refugees are always stretched thin. As BenRawlence says in City of Thorns, his scathing indictment of the authorities, “Early warning [of the famine] was a waste of time—there would have to be people dying on television before the money from rich governments would flow. And when it finally did, it would come in a flood. And the markets for the local farmers would collapse entirely. The same thing happened every time.” Ten thousand children had been dying each month, trying to walk to Kenya. “The mortality rate was seven times over the emergency threshold.” Eventually, 260,000 people would die, half of them children. The site became a circus, with TV journalists everywhere and the profiteers of misery, who are always waiting for tragedy in order to pounce.

The rains eventually came and things were somewhat better, though too much rain can make matters worse. Then, because of infiltration by al-Shabaab, two Spanish women, aid workers, were kidnapped. The international agencies suspended their work and Kenya declared war on al-Shabaab, with the intent of forming a buffer zone known as Jubaland between the two countries (but within Somalia borders). That war was largely ineffective. The residents of the Dadaab camps experienced increased violence. The Kenyan government (“less a state than a corrupt collection of rival cartels, some of whom probably had an interest in prolonging the fighting”) and the Kenyan police, an “assortment of drunk and overweight…officers staring at the television,” were largely motivated by corruption and profit.

And the refugees themselves? Rawlence describes them as mostly trapped in Dadaab. Some waited for years for papers for immigration to the few countries that would accept them. Some fled to Nairobi in spite of the restrictions on them. Some returned to Mogadishu, believing that it might be safer than continuing to live in the camps. There was social breakdown, a blurring of traditional gender roles, especially for men, who had a difficult time being providers. People gave up as their lives dried up. Then, to make things even worse, external events changed all of the parameters. The UNHCR had to cut food rations for the refugees in Dadaab, because the money was needed elsewhere, especially for Syria and Iraq. September 21, 2013, masked gunmen attacked shoppers at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, amidst shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and “We are al-Shabaab,” killing at least 67 people over several days. The ineptitude of the Kenyan forces was on full display and video caught their looting of the mall. But that hardly mattered. The outcry was, once again, for closing down Dadaab, described as an al-Shabaab breeding ground. Rawlence does not agree with that assessment.

Following the rulebook of other countries in recent decades, the Kenyan government simply declared “Dadaab Camp Officially Closed.” No matter that there were still 400,000 people living there and conditions in Somalia had not significantly improved. The refugees (including Somalis in Nairobi) were expected to return to Somalia, and some did, sent on Kenyan busses. Rawlence describes the situation as “the pogrom against Somalis.” Nor does he mince words when he states that Dadaab had “the structure of punishment” like a prison, though the residents had committed no crimes. The crime was somewhere else: “There was a crime here on an industrial scale: confining people to a camp, forbidding them to work, and then starving them; people who had come to Dadaab fleeing famine in the first place.” With nowhere else for people to go, Dadaab actually grew larger, instead of smaller.

City of Thorns is a perfect metaphor for our time, a perfect storm of human misery because of mismanagement. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that other similar refugee camps are springing up all over the Middle East. The wonder of Rawlence’s book is its emphasis on the human dimension, in spite of the writer’s massing of historical evidence. (Rawlence worked for Human Rights Watch in the area for several years.) The book’s sub-title is Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, although, sadly, since the book was completed, there are several camps in the Middle East competing in their size.

The lives of nine refugees fleshes out the horror of the story by providing it with a human context. Thus, one of the first people we encounter is Guled, who was born in Mogadishu in 1993, and, years later, fled the country, arriving in Dadaab late in 2010. Before that, he’d been conscripted by the fundamentalists, forced to join the moral police (boy soldiers), checking the market. He describes some of their tactics. “Beating was routine. If you had music or inappropriate pictures on your phone you might be forced to swallow the SIM card. Smokers often had their faces burned with their own cigarettes. One man who had been beaten for smoking…later broke down crying when he recounted the story—not for the physical pain he had suffered but the heartbreak of being assaulted by children.

After some weeks of policing the market, Guled managed to escape and flee to Kenya, soon after marrying a girl named Maryam. In Dabaab, he had to register with the UNHCR and claim asylum “in order to be given a ration card, personal items like a blanket and a bucket….” Guled remained frightened that al-Shabaab’s infiltrators would recognize him. He had to struggle to find a job but eventually found day work as a porter. Since he was single, he’d not been given a plot of land and a tent but had to share space with a family. After some months, Maryam arrived, pregnant, and the two were united. Their lives and that of their two children were tenuous. Guled’s jobs are never adequate for supporting his family; he’s also addicted to “playing and watching football.” Eventually, Maryam gives up on their marriage and returns to Mogadishu with their children. Guled remains in Dabaab for fear that al-Shabaab will recognize him.

Another marriage—between Monday, who was born in the camp, and Muna, who was brought to the camp by her parents—falters because Muna became addicted to khat. Her addiction occurred after the birth of two children and after the family was put on “fast track” for resettlement in Australia. Fast track is an oxymoron; the time often stretches into years. Muna became so compromised by the khat that she tried to kill herself. Monday was left for a time raising their children. Rawlence’s inclusion of their story is obvious. As he notes, “Muna was perhaps the ultimate child of her generation. Raised in the limbo of the camp, the true daughter of Dabaab, Muna had relinquished responsibility for herself entirely to the testing mercy of events,” simply giving up. Yet, months and months later, after the two were reunited and Muna was pregnant again, their paperwork (which had been lost) finally resulted in their resettlement in Australia. Whether they would remain intact as a family—after so many years of disappointment—was doubtful.

In City of Thorns, Rawlence is anything but hopeful about the lives of the refugees he followed over several years. The book suffers from poor editing in a number of places, possibly because of an attempt to get it into print just as the refugee situation in other trouble spots of the world has gotten out of control. Still, Rawlence’s rage at the lackadaisical approach of donor nations (often the cause of the problems) about refugee crises is totally understandable and justified. As he concludes, “Ranged against the Kenyan desire to see Dadaab leveled was not just the law, but all the forces of human ingenuity and determination that had raised a city in this most hostile desert. Dadaab worked. It served a need, for the miracle of schools and hospitals and a safety net of food, and for respite from the exhaustion of the war. It had become a fact. Through the accumulated energy of the generations that had lived there it had acquired the weight and drama of place. It was a landmark around which hundreds of thousands oriented their lives. In the imagination of Somalis, even if not on the official cartography, Dadaab was now on the map.

Source:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Operation Mindfuck: The origins of the Illuminati conspiracy fraud and how it became popular in our times

From the new documentary Can 't Get You Out of My Head by Adam Curtis   globinfo freexchange   The first settlers had come from Europe to America to flee from the corruption of power in the Old World. But although they had got away from the old power, they hadn't got away from their suspicious minds, and alone, out in the vast wilderness of the new America, that led them to imagining dark, hidden conspiracies in their own government, far away in Washington.    One of the first of these, in the early 19th century, said that a secret group from Europe, called the Bavarian Illuminati, were running a giant conspiracy in America to destroy the new democracy. In reality, the Illuminati had been a utopian movement who wanted to replace religion with reason. But instead, they now became the first of a series of frightening suspicions that fed off the isolation of the settlers in the New World.    One night (in 1958, somewhere in the vicinity of Whittier, California), Kerry Thornley

Ποιος ολιγάρχης θα πηδήξει πρώτος από το κυβερνητικό Μητσοτακικό καράβι που βουλιάζει;

failed evolution   Όλα δείχνουν ότι η αντίστροφη μέτρηση για την πτώση του Μητσοτακικού καθεστώτος έχει αρχίσει. Το καθεστώς δέχτηκε απανωτά χτυπήματα σε όλα τα μέτωπα, με κεντρικό, βεβαίως, το μέτωπο της πανδημίας. Η αποτυχία του καθεστώτος όσον αφορά τα μέτρα και το πρόγραμμα εμβολιασμών, που απ'ότι φαίνεται χωλαίνει, θα αποτελέσει την αρχή του τέλους της αποτυχημένης Μητσοτακικής διακυβέρνησης.   Η απέλπιδα προσπάθεια ενός τραγικού Μητσοτάκη να κινητοποιήσει τα αντανακλαστικά των νοικοκυραίων, πάντα με τη βοήθεια της μιντιακής χούντας, χρησιμοποιώντας την πρόσφατη επίθεση εναντίον αστυνομικού, φαίνεται ότι πέφτει στο κενό. Οι νοικοκυραίοι μεσαιοταξίτες δεν "τσιμπάνε" πλέον με τέτοιου είδους φτηνά επικοινωνιακά κολπάκια, πολύ απλά γιατί βλέπουν ότι το παρατεταμένο λοκντάουν του ενός έτους, τους εξοντώνει συστηματικά κυρίως στον οικονομικό τομέα. Όπως είχαμε γράψει αμέσως μετά τις εκλογές του Ιουλίου του 19, μπορεί ο Έλλην μικροαστός να άγεται με ευκολία από τη μιντιακή

COVID-19: After one year, Mitsotakis regime fails dramatically to control pandemic in Greece

globinfo freexchange   After one year, Greece has become one of the most characteristic cases of blatant failure concerning COVID-19 pandemic control. The situation is getting worse and the National Health System of Greece receives extreme pressure, while there are signs that it has already crashed. According to some recent reports , " A record number of patients with Covid-19 in Greece are on ventilators on Thursday. The total number of people undergoing the treatment has reached 706, breaking the previous record of 699, which was recorded on both the last two consecutive days, on Tuesday and Wednesday. " With the help of jodi.graphics we present a brief timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country: February 26, 2020: The first verified COVID-19 case in Greece. March 10, 2020: The government shuts down schools and universities. March 12, 2020: The first death in Greece from COVID-19.   March 23, 2020: The first lockdown in Greece.   March 28, 2020: COVID-19 cases in Gr

Γκάλοπ πρόωρων εκλογών

failed evolution survey software * Η σειρά με την οποία έχουν τοποθετηθεί τα πολιτικά κόμματα έγινε με βάση το αποτέλεσμα των τελευταίων βουλευτικών εκλογών του Ιουλίου του 2019.  * Αν προτιμάτε άλλο κόμμα από αυτά που εκπροσωπούνται στη βουλή, υπάρχει η επιλογή "Άλλο", ενώ μπορείτε, αν θέλετε, να γράψετε στα σχόλια το όνομα του κόμματος.  * Παρακαλούμε κοινοποιείστε για καλύτερο δείγμα.

QAnon and Russiagate: How the capitalist elites produced a mass conspiracy hysteria to maintain power

globinfo freexchange   In his new documentary Can't Get You Out of My Head , Adam Curtis traces the origins of popular conspiracy theories that survived up to our days and spread rapidly due to Internet. As a result, Curtis finds that Trump election and Brexit triggered a conspiracy paranoia that took over both the liberal establishment and the ultra-conservative camp. The story begins in the late 60s, when Kerry Thornley and his friend Greg Hill had started what they called Operation Mindfuck . They had spread the conspiracy theory that the Illuminati were really the secret rulers of the world. They had done it to parody and ridicule all conspiracy theories because they thought that they undermined the confidence of individuals and made them easier to control.    But now, in the mass of data online, those stories about the Illuminati got mixed up with other conspiracies, both true and false, and out of it came extraordinary dreamlike stories built out of fragments of truth and fic

New bill designed to destroy 3rd parties in the US

Redacted Tonight   The Democrats are pursuing  an ostensible "Voting Rights" bill that seriously undermines 3rd party politics. 

Νέα απόπειρα περαιτέρω μετάλλαξης του ΣΥΡΙΖΑ από την ντόπια ολιγαρχία καθώς το κυβερνών καράβι της Μητσοτακοδεξιάς βουλιάζει

globinfo freexchange   Ήδη από τον Ιούλιο του '15, ανιχνεύσαμε την πιο σοβαρή απόπειρα της ντόπιας ολιγαρχίας, σε συνεργασία πάντα με τους δανειστές της Τρόικας, να μεταλλάξουν τον ΣΥΡΙΖΑ σε συστημικό κόμμα, κομμένο και ραμμένο στα μέτρα τους. Η μεγάλη επιτυχία των ολιγαρχών και του άξονα Βρυξελλών-Βερολίνου, ήταν η απομάκρυνση της επικίνδυνης γι'αυτούς Αριστερής πλατφόρμας από το κόμμα.    Όπως είχαμε γράψει πριν από ένα χρόνο, μετά την εικονική έξοδο από τα μνημόνια, οι ολιγάρχες άρχισαν να φοβούνται ότι ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ θα μπορούσε να εκτροχιαστεί από την "κανονικότητά" τους. Δεν είναι τυχαίο ότι η "κανονικότητα" άρχισε να πλασάρεται, ως έννοια, από τους μιντιακούς παπαγάλους, όταν οι ντόπιοι ολιγάρχες και το νεοφιλελεύθερο ιερατείο είδαν τον ΣΥΡΙΖΑ να "τσινάει" και να αρχίζει να σκαλίζει διάφορα μεγάλα σκάνδαλα. Έτσι, η "κανονικότητα" ταυτίστηκε με την άνοδο της Μητσοτακικής δεξιάς στην εξουσία, που θα γλίτωνε τη χώρα από τους επικίνδυνους

Max Blumenthal debunks US accusation of China's 'genocide' against Uighurs

The Grayzone   Max Blumenthal documents the deceptions behind the US government's accusation that China is committing "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims in its Xinjiang region, picking apart NED-funded studies that rely on botched statistics and exposing extremist Adrian Zenz and his error-filled research. 

Joe Biden is already breaking his promise to end the US’ ‘forever wars’ in the Middle East

by Robert Inlakesh   Part 4 - Twisting the nuclear deal   Along with the demonisation of Iran and its influence in Iraq being used as a partial justification for further action in the country comes the Biden administration’s continued hardball stance when it comes to re-entering the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal. Biden has offered to rejoin talks with Iran, on the issue of the JCPOA, dropping Trump-era restrictions such as the tight limitation of movement imposed on Iranian diplomats, but these gestures have not budged any party. In a meeting this Thursday between US, German, French and UK diplomats, the quartet blamed Iran for the lack of progress on the restoration of the deal. The statement focuses on its reactionary enrichment of uranium, which came in the wake of US and EU non-compliance with the deal, and urged Iran to consider the “ consequences of such grave action ”.  In response to the statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif lambasted the US and E3 partners for what he call

Aurora police killed without consequence, now their protestors face 48 years for “kidnapping” cops

The cops and the district attorneys want people to see what we are going through — the conditions of our arrests, our experiences in jail, and our legal battle — and to think that this is what you risk when you stand up against them. – Lillian House, Aurora Activist and Defendant   by Alan Macleod   Part 3 - A vindictive police response To this day, Aurora Police classify McClain as a “suspect” in a case, meaning that his family cannot seek compensation, even for funeral costs. At the height of the Movement for Black Lives last summer, activists organized a mass protest for McClain, including a somber violin vigil in the city’s Center Park. Musicians (including children) from all over the city and further afield congregated to mourn the death of one of their own. The event was broken up by masked, black-clad police in full riot gear, wielding batons and pepper spray. “ We challenged their impunity, we challenged their ability to kill without consequence, and the protests we led brought