By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn
Ten years ago, a group of 130 young men arrived in Dallas after a nearly impossible journey that included thousands of miles walking through jungles and desert and years living in refugee camps with minimal rations. These were the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
When the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out in 1983, thousands of boys from the predominately Christian southern Sudan were sent running from their family homes and villages to escape a likely death at the hands of Khartoum forces from the North, who targeted young males in an attempt to stamp out a new generation of rebel fighters.
Thousands of these displaced young boys found each other in the jungle and banded together to seek safe harbor. They began a journey with no real leader and no clear direction, but a common goal of escaping death. Those who managed to survive the daunting conditions – a lack of food and water, disease, and attacks by lions, hyenas, and other wild animals at night – headed south until they eventually reached Ethiopia, where they stayed in a makeshift camp until that nation, too, broke out in civil war in 1991. On the move again, the boys made their way to Kenya, where they were told they could finally find refuge. This meant crossing through southern Sudan once more, facing the threat of attacks by Khartoum forces and a continued lack of provisions. Perhaps the most terrifying hurdle was crossing the Gilo River, which separates southwestern Ethiopia from Sudan. Some horrific accounts depict younger boys clinging to those who knew how to swim as they crossed. Some drowned, others were killed by crocodiles.
Those who survived made their way to a United Nations camp in northern Kenya. Rations were meager—often only one meal a day—but education was provided. Many of the boys learned English, not knowing at the time just how valuable those lessons would prove. One journalist dubbed them the “Lost Boys” after the group of orphans in Peter Pan, and while it’s not a nickname they necessarily like, it stuck. In 2001, after many of the boys had spent nearly 9 years at the camp, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recommended about 3,800 of the Lost Boys for resettlement in the United States. An agreement was reached with the U.S. government and the resettlement process ensued.
Today, there are Lost Boys living in nearly 40 cities across the country. In Dallas, a network of churches, charities and volunteer organizations have helped the 130 Lost Boys who settled there to attend school, find jobs and secure living arrangements. Highland Park Presbyterian Church, for example, has funded 80 percent of the tuition costs for the Lost Boys living in Dallas. To date, a majority of the Lost Boys who settled in Dallas have become U.S. citizens. I was proud to participate in a naturalization ceremony several years ago during which several of these young men became citizens.
I recently had the chance to meet with a group of Dallas’ Lost Boys. Today, these young men are far from “lost,” with college degrees and quality jobs under their belts, but many of them still long for home and the families they were forced to leave at such a young age. Some of have been able to locate and reconnect with their families; others are still looking. Several of them told me of their passion for human rights and their desire to return to Sudan, to provide relief to refugees and further the cause of peace there.
I couldn’t have been more impressed with these young men, who have overcome unspeakable tragedy and insurmountable odds. They are intelligent, grounded, thoughtful individuals who keep their focus on the future and how they can make the world a better place. They have been through more hardship than many of us can even imagine, and yet they have a positive spirit about them that is contagious and inspiring.
As they commemorate the 10th anniversary of their arrival in Dallas, I wish this particular group and all of the Lost Boys of Sudan the very best. And I applaud the efforts of the many generous Texans and Americans who have helped them resettle and find opportunity. We have a long way to go toward peace in Sudan, and I hope the story of the Lost Boys will continue to inspire us to reach that goal.
For more information on the Lost Boys living in the Dallas area, visit: www.friendslostboys.org.
Sources: Dallas Morning News; Friends of the Lost Boys – DFW
Sen. Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services, and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.