Sudan: American resettlement of "lost boys" continues

News and Press Release
Originally published
NAIROBI, 12 June (IRIN) - The US State Department expects to complete by September of this year a programme of resettling approximately 3,800 Sudanese children and young adults from Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya, which it began in November 2000. These refugees, predominantly boys and young men, who have come to be known as the "lost boys" of Sudan, were among thousands (estimated 17,000) who were separated from their parents and fled on foot to Ethiopia - walking more than 1,000 km on the four-month journey, a State Department press release noted on Monday.
Management of the refugee camps to which the boys went was delegated by the Ethiopian government to the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which subjected the youths to military training and viewed them as a recruitment pool for the rebel army, according to the NGO Refugees International. Some joined the army voluntarily on the promise of education; others were taken forcibly by the SPLA, who had organised their original flight from Sudan, it said. [for further information, see:]

In 1991, the Ethiopian government closed the refugee camps, and the boys were sent back to Sudan. Many were enslaved by armed tribesmen; others succumbed to starvation or bombings by government planes, but, remarkably, thousands survived, according to Refugees International. By May 1992, 10,500 of the "lost boys" had reached Kakuma camp in Turkana District, where they were classified as unaccompanied minors (UACs) and placed in special sections of the camp.

Most of the estimated 10,000 "lost boys" left the camp over the years before the US resettlement scheme started, and were therefore not eligible for it, UNHCR spokesman Paul Stromberg told IRIN on Tuesday. That left some 4,000 in Kakuma to be considered, of whom some had married and others had left the camp and later returned - rendering them ineligible for the US programme, he said.

UNHCR undertook a careful and rigorous "best-interest" determination of a couple of hundred Sudanese youths under 18 years of age, and found that the US resettlement was not in the best interests of all, either because their families had been traced or for other reasons, Stromberg said. This combination of events explained the US resettlement figure of 3,800, he added.

"Despite years of family tracing efforts by humanitarian organisations, many of the children [in the American resettlement programme] have little hope that they will ever see their parents again," the US State Department said on Monday. With war in Sudan continuing, return to a homeland for these children and young adults could mean forced military conscription and/or other danger to their lives, it added.

These minors' education in camp schools (rather than training as traditional cattle herders) and the segregation imposed on them as UACs in Kakuma put them out of step with Dinka and Nuer tribal concepts of a young man's place in society, according to Refugees International.

Many refused to undergo scarification of their foreheads - the Dinka and Nuer rite of passage to becoming an adult, it said. And, without money to pay the traditional wedding dowry, they were barred from marriage - the other avenue of reintegration into society. Their communities had effectively stigmatised the youths as unruly outcasts, though they remained vulnerable to conscription by the SPLA, the NGO reported in 1998.

In 1999, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), working in collaboration with the US State Department, referred about 3,800 of these young adults and children to the US for refugee resettlement. Last year, the US began formally processing them for placement in the US, and arrivals are scheduled to continue into September.

About 500 children, mostly boys and a small number of girls, have already entered the United States and been placed in refugee foster care programmes in 10 states. In all, the Kakuma refugees will be resettled in 28 states by 10 resettlement agencies that work with the US government. [For more information, see the fact sheet "Refugees from Sudan" at:]

The resettlement agencies will provide them with basic necessities and assist them in connecting to social services, high school and other education/training programmes, and job services for up to 90 days after arrival in the US, according to the State Department. In addition, a number of social service programmes funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement are available to refugees for longer periods, it added.


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