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Why Are the Lost Boys of Sudan Still Lost?
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Why Are the Lost Boys of Sudan Still Lost?
By Tonya Jones
June 22, 2006

The Lost Boys have been resettled in the United States for many years. So why are they still classified as refugees? They are called the Lost Boys because they had to fend for themselves without parents or an extended family. In the late 1980’s thousands of boys from southern Sudan fled to escape civil war between the Khartoum based government and the Christians in the south. They were afraid they would be massacred by government troops as many of their families had been. The orphaned boys traveled for months over many miles from country to country; to Ethiopia, back to Sudan and to refugee camps in Kenya.

In early 2001, the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees determined that repatriation and family reunification was no longer an option for the Lost Boys. They recommended that between 3,000-4,000 Lost Boys resettle in the United States. The U.S. State Department concurred. The boys were scattered across the U.S. in small groups.

The Lost Boys were assigned ages between 8-18 years old by relief workers in the camps, unaware of their exact biological age. This dilemma of not knowing their age hindered many of the boys’ dreams of receiving an education in the States and thus delayed their goal of returning home to Sudan.

Neither the boys nor the re-settlement agencies knew their correct ages, so relief workers guessed. The fortunate ones were those judged to be below the age of 18, were allowed to complete their secondary educations at high school and continue onto junior colleges free of charge. Those judged to be above 18 were too old for high school and had to go to work. With no qualifications they were forced to take low-paying jobs.

Before arriving in the U.S. many refugees had a preconceived notion that life in the States would be easy. Were the boys sold an empty bag of goods? Yes. When the United States accepts refugees it has an obligation to make sure that new arrivals have access to what is considered the American Dream. The Lost Boys agreed to resettle in the States in order to receive an education and escape war and famine. It’s doubtful they would have agreed otherwise.

There should be exceptions to allow these refugees to receive an education no matter what age they are deemed. If they are classified as refugees a plan should be in place by U.S agencies before they resettle here.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is the main resettlement agency for the Lost Boys. The IRC believes that “every refugee’s greatest resource in successfully making the translation in life in the United States is he or herself. It is our job to assist refugees in translating their strengths, skills and past experiences into assets in their new communities. We do this by providing initial essentials such as food and shelter, orienting individuals and families, and introducing them to American systems such as school, medical, legal and other institutions.” The IRC is funded by private and public donations.

Currently, many of Lost Boys have no country to call home. Federal funding should be increased to the resettlement agencies so they can provide even more support, especially for education. Many refugees try to work and go to school full-time, which is difficult for any American, much less a refugee. Education is the great equalizer and without this right the refugees are starting out far behind; their transition should be made easier.

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