ben rawlence

ben rawlence


city of thorns


audio jan interview

started w blackhawk down – largest refugee camp

being scapegoats… being ignored

getting enough to eat is the main thing


jan interview: Permanent Refugees

resettlement option is broken

fb powerful.. like a sharp instrument.. seeing friends who are now in america doing well..

the main thing is to unblock the pipeline..


city of thorns

Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp


jan 2016 – “City of Thorns” | Talks at Google

dadaab – imagine a city of 1/2 million people.. w/no permanent structures.. ie: sewage, running water, power… and imagine those people are not allowed to leave and not allowed to work

.. after a couple of years.. after tent un gave you dies.. you forced to cut trees down to build house…

very hot.. very wet.. w/o sanitation disease licks through camp like wildfire

the way people survive is by food rations… distributed every 2 weeks

this has been going on for 25 years… now 2 generations that have been born there..

one of 9 men – goolet 20ish.. born when blackhawk down happened.. after than un left.. and somalia no govt.. so his life mirrors collapse of somalia and rise of this refugee camp.. interestingly throughout this war he kept going to school.. one day he goes to school and soldiers are there .. take away all tall boys to a training camp.. including him… escapes after a month.. he’s 15 and had a wife.. since in the war life is short.. he had to leave w/o seeing her to protect her.. got to kenya refugee camp… lived with friend.. showed him how camp worked..

thinking hamza

8 min – principle challenge of refugee camp was how to get money. ie: in order to make a phone call to his wife… sells his ration…she wants to come.. but she needs money to get there.. so tries his hand in black market… ends up not getting money.. but she finds it and gets there.. is pregnant.. to her – not so good in camp..

11 min – end of that story… early 2015 – have had 2 children w/another on the way.. dilemma everyone is in.. after 25 yrs supposed to have a solution ..

14 min – the crux of our current refugee problem.. used to be temporary.. and rich people would share with burden.. now.. rich countries don’t want refugees – so quotas have gotten smaller and camps larger.. so this refugee system is broken

15 min – europe (for these people) is a dream of a solution..

18 min – now i look on his fb feed – he’s living an imaginary life online…they’re in the world but not of it..

19 min – i’d like to pose some questions to google .. to us…

why is this important to us.. 1\ it’s not a european refugee crisis… it’s global.. the refugee pipeline is broken

20 min – people are choosing the illegal camps.. because they are learning this isn’t a temporary situation..

we’re now at 60 million displace.. a country size of uk..  ie: birthrate in dadaab is 1000/month

23 min – this is a problem and an opportunity

on mark zuckerberg.. saying he would connect all refugee camps.. but what do you do with that connectivity.. because basically fb is a wind up.. a depression.. showing them how the rest of the world is living.. a longing for another life.. so connectivity can contribute to mental illness… it could contribute to positives… this is where good for google to think about..

how do you start incorporating those camps with one another..  and with the rest of us… these are captive populations of young people that would take on any opportunity with great zeal…

26 min – another issue is language.. google translate has been huge..  but need it for many other languages…

street map… street view.. would offer all sorts of applications.. very useful for policing.. water problems…

27 min – these numbers are only going to grow.. the numbers displace by war is peanuts compared to number that will be displaced by climate change… esp in ie: sub sahara africa

29 min – we need to fix this global refugee system that doesn’t work and come up with all sorts of innovative solutions even tech ones that deal with temp cities/societies and connect people despite all of these ideas of race et al.. all that divides us

indeed ..actually a dance for all of us

a nother way

let’s do this firstfree art-ists.

for (blank)’s sake

37 min – we need a marshal plan.. i’ve been covering issues for 10 yrs.. only coming up as huge now.. because they’re showing up in ie: europe.. not just 300 dead refugees in a boat, but 300 dead refugees and 1 million that made it..

43 min – we need to remember everybody .. and at least feed them.. you can’t keep them from leaving .. not let them work.. and then not feed them

44 min – infrastructure is outdated.. technically it’s illegal.. you’re supposed to allow refugees freedom of movement.. but they’ve come up with loopholes.. but if you’ve got 50 000 people.. a temp city is only way to look after them…  tents, mobile hospitals… over time its schools.. and then it’s food. ie: shipping 8000 tons of food a month.. transportation cost 4x cost of food.. if only we could give them money.. but that’s how u.s. takes care of it in order to take care of own people…

46 min – prohibition on work is an age old narrative.. we don’t want them taking our work.. normally they make more than they take.. but ie: kenya believes very much that these refugees pose an economic threat.. it’s an easy story to tell if you as a politician is facing critique… easy to blame all problems on refugees

48 min – as budget is going down.. it’s enlisting volunteers to run the camp… ie: teaching, water/sanitation engineers.. all w/o proper support.. so recently.. no sanitation.. and it just piled up.. so refugees organized themselves… not allowed to work but could get a stipend.. often can’t get enough kenyan teachers.. to using teachers that aren’t trained.. getting 70 a month.. next to a kenyan teacher getting 1000… the incentives to volunteer are quite low..

50  min – an element of people continuing old professions.. but can’t all do that.. certainly an element of self-organizing..

what would be great if refugees were empowered more to organize themselves and run things.. if you allowed them to do their own thing.. they could make the camp a better place..

a nother way

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refugee camps

Kilian Kleinschmidt


Ben and Kilian interview on why refugee camps don’t work and how to fix them

3/7/16 4:14 AM
From Calais to the borders of Syria: Why refugee camps don’t work – and how to fix them. With@BenRawlence+@KilianK…
phrase – refugee camp – misleading… ie: could be temprorary and emergency to a long time city.. best to develop diff strategies for diff situations – b
refugee camp always meant to be a storage facility… camp implies temporary.. but dimension of camps staying for decades is not there when you plan them.. and that’s the problem.. – k
dadaab is in 3rd generation – b
syria is going to last for some time.. so what do they look for.. 1\ return 2\ then (when realize it will be longer term) how to make best of camp –  they set up a city – by themselves – in one year – design/redesign living spaces – ie: received containers for houses.. but individualized them.. didn’t expect to be a bulk pkg – k
they are like cities w/a diff.. more like prisons… yet.. life does not stand still.. they won’t just sit and wait…  – b
problem is aid agencies being only provider… ie: they aren’t city builders nor counterparts to govt – we don’t put the right resources there… depends on who you put in as right provider of expertise.. – k
sound like we need more of people themselves in that role.. via just providing resources they request.. trusting that..
w/o govt coop.. can’t experiment w/any alternatives – and govt’s see camps as a negative.. so mad situation where no one is allowed to work/leave ..  where this could actually be a huge positive.. almost doesn’t consider somalie refugees as human.. mystery to me why more countries aren’t vying over these people to build their econ’s- b
nationality: human ness..
people/refugees sharing stories.. of working non stop.. (from n lebanon)
solution – putting in right level of expertise so govt’s don’t feel threatened..we had major breakthrough when started work w/local sectors, ie: supermarkets.. ie: smart cards.. supermarket chains had no problems to obtain work permits.. aid agencies need to partner up in a diff way..  – k
solution – what kilian attempted in datari – the key here is the politics… would be best if refugees were running everything.. they could spend budget a whole lot more productively… but key dimension is brokering political settlement.. ie: now 3 days to take food.. spending so much on that.. some being skimmed by corrupt middle men.. so offer something of benefit to whole region.. – b
new policy – no camps any more.. unrealistic.. sometimes only option.. the problem is the aid system in itself… we live in another world.. aid money in general is insufficient.. there are much more capacities in private/public sector.. getting the dimension across.. – concept of city of the dabia.. major population and econ center in middle of nowhere.. kenya..  you should seize the opportunity… aid agencies should say – this is really not our job.. they should let go.. need to bring in totally diff set of partners –  k
problem – no real leadership .. ie: kenyan govt wanting camp closed.. but some wanting to hold on .. because of benefits of corruption of it.. there’s no one really with a vision that has a position of leadership… i’m continually be approached by people who want to help… there isn’t really an overall leadership… everyone is wanting to wish problem away.. and refugees have psych problem.. because they’re wishing for a future somewhere else… – b
that’s the point (short term vision)- lots who would like to do something .. but don’t see chance..  we have connectivity in the world today which we’re underutilizing for the moment…. – k
at moment .. the concept is broken .. but i do believe it’s possible to build new camps in imaginative ways.. camps as part of solution.. not only one.. – b

a nother way

for (blank)’s sake



Read @ianbirrell on why more refugee camps are not the answer:…

Dispelling the myth of the humane refugee camp…I’ve visited camps on three continents, and at best they tend to be soul-destroying

“I feel like my head will explode when I remember what life was like before war,” she said……Yet this woman was certain of one thing: she would rather return to Syria despite the savagery on all sides than go back to the refugee camp she fled a few days before we met. It was like prison, she said – echoing words I heard earlier from others. There was no work, no electricity and nothing to do all day, while stores over-charged for food and clothing behind the barbed wire. Her family left their last few possessions to escape. “Here we have nothing but at least we have our freedom.”
One myth in particular needs to be nailed fast: the concept that refugee camps are humane and workable solutions to such crises. Politicians and pundits keep suggesting that we pour cash into these holding pens. Yet as that young mother in Jordan showed, this approach is wrong both morally and practically.
I have visited refugee camps on three continents. At best they tend to be soul-destroying – places that keep people alive but stop them from living, as one academic put it so succinctly. There may be food, schools and health clinics in many. But they can also be grim centres of incarceration, designed to herd traumatised people into places that make it easier to control them, either for host governments or aid agencies trying to help. They are seen as short-term solutions yet drift into permanence – just look at Palestinian camps going back 68 years – while gangs, guns, violence and sexual abuse can be rampant.
The benevolent image of refugee camps has been shattered by a brilliant new book by journalist Ben Rawlence, whom I met during his five-year stint investigating life in Dadaab, northern Kenya.
Let us focus less on camps in this crisis. They are one more fig leaf for politicians, one more pretend solution put forward by armchair experts. The key is to let refugees work legitimately, so they can build a fresh start – wherever they are.