Thursday, October 27, 2016

In the news (OT): Book Review - City of Thorns (Africa, refugee camp)

The Jungle is gone.

The Jungle was a refugee camp in Calais, France. Inhabitants have mostly been moved to other locations in France.

I wonder if many of us can imagine what a refugee camp is. Perhaps you have seen photo clips on TV but can you imagine yourself living in one - for years?

I visited a couple of refugee camps in Thailand many years ago and they will stay in my mind forever so when I saw City of Thorns, I picked it up and read it.

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, by Ben Rawlence (Macmillan, 402 pages, 2016, $19.45)

Why were concentration camps called ‘camps’?

Why are refugee camps called ‘camps’?

City of Thorns relates the stories of 9 Somalis who left their country after years of famine and just ahead of Al-Shabaab (linked to Al Queda) in 1992. Some of them were born and have grown up in the refugee camp in neighboring Kenya.

Kenyan law prohibits them from working and also from constructing permanent structures – thus, their huts are composed of thorn bushes: their only means of support is a food ration from the UN and occasional part-time work (for which Kenyans are paid considerably more).

(This reviewer visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in the 1970s in Songkhla, Thailand, and later, in the Thai northeast, a Cambodian camp - but only briefly.  I can’t imagine them being anything like the camp in Kenya, stories of which are related in City of Thorns.)

Author Ben Rawlence traveled to the Dadaab camp several times over a period of several years. Some incidents he witnessed; others, he corroborated by interviewing several sources.

Dadaab Camp in Kenya is a life unto its own – can you imagine living so impermanently for up to 25 years in a country that obviously does not want you, along with 400,000 others?

Details of Life Within

Forced repatriation is against Kenyan law but it too happens and the percentage of people who agree to be repatriated back to Somalia does not come near to matching the birth rate in the camp.

Unlike most US police, police in many other countries do not have a trusted reputation. Beatings, rape, and bribes happen. Kidnapping happens (to MSF* employees).  

People leave the camp to make their way to Nairobi and points north: they leave their ration cards behind or sell them.

Rations were cut 50% when the World Food Program faced a global funding crisis.

Finally, the authorities switch to biometric identification rather than identity cards and ration cards – the census drops to 300,000 but 600,000 people were vaccinated against polio. Go figure.

“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.”

Falling Through the Cracks

Monday and Muna were granted emergency asylum in Australia but two years later, they still had not left. Bureaucracy. . . .

One woman was selected for a 6-month solar panel installation course so she resigned her UN position. The morning the new students were to leave for the course, they all lined up to board the buses but not enough buses arrived. She did not make it aboard a bus and had to remain in the camp but now without a job and still with a mother and a family to support.

And on and on and on. . . . . the situation was even in national news the day this review was written, August 16, 2016. We should pay closer attention: perhaps if more people read City of Thorns. . . .

*Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)

Caveat: you can find this book at your local public library among other places

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