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Kakuma camp
Photo: Church of the Brethren

Background -The War in the Sudan

  • Seventeen years of warfare have cumulatively left more than 5 million Sudanese uprooted from their homes.
  • The current phase of the civil war began in 1983, pitting the main rebel army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and its allies against the government's military and its allies.
  • Combatants on all sides have targeted and exploited civilian populations. A 1998 study by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) estimated that over 1.9 million people in southern and central Sudan had died of war-related causes since 1983.
  • Another USCR report pointed out that Sudanese have suffered more war-related deaths during the past 16 years than any single population in the world.
    (Information from the World Refugee Survey 2000)

The Story of the Lost Boys

Sudanese youth
Photo: International Committee for the Red Cross

Since 1983, nearly five million people have been displaced by the civil war in the Sudan. Among these are at least 20,000 children, mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated from their families. Beginning in 1987, thousands of these "Lost Boys" of Sudan were driven from their homes and trekked enormous distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness, seeking refuge from forcible conscription….

Factions began to attack peaceful villages, kidnapping young males to use as cannon fodder in battle zones or to walk through minefields. Fearing they would be targeted as potential combatants, many boys left their villages for refugee camps in Ethiopia….They lost everything en route to soldiers, swindlers or bandits. Many fell victim to lethal diseases. Others were so weakened by hunger and lack of sleep that they could go no further and sat down by the roadside, prey for lions and other wild animals.

Sudanese boy
Photo: Church of the Brethren

The survivors who reached refugee camps in Ethiopia began to lead relatively peaceful lives again. But this was not to last. Following a change in government in Ethiopia in May 1991, the Sudanese youths were forced to flee again. This time the journey occurred during heavy rains, and many perished crossing the swollen rivers. Hungry, frightened and weakened by sleeplessness and disease, they made their way to camps in Sudan, where they received help from the International Committee of the Red Cross. From there, they then traveled on foot to safety in northern Kenya. Since 1992, UNICEF has been able to reunite 1,200 boys with their families. But thousands have remained in the dusty refugee camp at Kakuma….

In 1999, the UNHCR, working with in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, referred over 3,300 of these youth to the U.S. for resettlement processing.

(Adapted from a letter from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services)

Lost Boys home • Background • Life in Kakuma CampResettlement in the US

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