Ben Rawlence in City of Thorns portrays the lives of nine refugees living in the largest UN refugee camp in Dadaab in the northern part of Kenya. Rawlence describes how these individuals escaped from mainly war-torn Somalia and Sudan to seek safety and security.
Once in Dadaab, they are assessed and accordingly provided with the appropriate shelter in make-shift tents and are provided with food ration cards by the UN staff. There are markets and a variety of shops operating at a very basic level and health care is provided to those who need it. There is a police force as well as security guards to watch over the rows and rows of the housing complex It is meagre living under deplorable conditions. But on the surface it appears to be better than what they left behind. Over time, some return to their homeland but others continue living in Dadaab. Rawlence describes the relationships among the refugees; love and marriage, separation and divorce, mixed religious marriages and the taboo that ensues in these marriages. Watching soccer on the TV provides some sort of relief from the chaos of no sense of belonging anywhere.
Rawlence exposes the deficiencies of the UN and the Kenya Government. Children have been born in this camp and are now adults. The resilience of the human spirit is well documented through the eyes of the author. At times there is gang violence and episodes of Somali captors seeking Somalis who escaped their homeland. It is a troubled way of living in Dadaab.
City of Thorns is a heart-breaking rendition of nine lives in the largest refugee camp in the world.