The Current

Forgotten Dadaab camp refugees share their harrowing stories of survival

While Canada works to settle thousands of refugees, and Europe welcomes many more, life in the largest refugee camp in the world goes on, unchanged. Journalist Ben Rawlence shares the stories from Dadaab, Kenya, home to half a million refugees.
A Somali refugee child carries her sibling at the Ifo camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border, May 8, 2015. Kenya's government threatened to close the Dadaab refugee camp, the world's biggest refugee camp was seen as a security risk. The United Nations refugee agency urged Kenya to reconsider an order to close the teeming Dadaab refugee camp, warning that sending Somali refugees back to their homeland would have "extreme humanitarian and practical consequences". (Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

In many ways, 2015 was the year of the refugee.

More than a million people made their way to Europe seeking shelter. And the world was forced to reckon with the fact that millions more have already made their way to the relative safety of UN run camps in countries like Turkey and Lebanon.   

The Dadaab refugee camp settlement is the size of Surrey, B.C. or Quebec City... forgotten by most of the world for years. (The Associated Press)

But, inside the world's largest refugee camp, 2015 was just another year that came and went, with very little attention paid by the wider world. That camp is an inhospitable corner of northern Kenya, in the desert, where only thorn bushes grow. That camp is Dadaab, and it's home to more than half-a-million people.   

The camp first opened in the early 1990s, Dadaab was meant to be a temporary city in the desert.  But its hardened since into an uneasy permanence.

"There's no plumbing, no permanent roads, there's no drainage, no electricity... everybody operates on the fiction that this place is temporary but it's actually become permanent."-  Journalist Ben Rawlence, author of "City of Thorns."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports about 15.2 million refugees live in camps. (Reuters)

For the past four years, journalist Ben Rawlence has been visiting the camp, and collecting its stories in his book, "City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp." Ben Rawlence joined Connie Walker from London, England.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese and Pacinthe Mattar.