Lost Boys hope to find a home in America

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The Independent Online

The Lost Boys of Sudan have survived everything that life in war-torn Africa threw at them. They have swum through crocodile infested waters; dodged bullets and tiptoed around landmines; braved disease and famine. Now they must face a new but perhaps equally daunting challenge - America.

The Lost Boys of Sudan have survived everything that life in war-torn Africa threw at them. They have swum through crocodile infested waters; dodged bullets and tiptoed around landmines; braved disease and famine. Now they must face a new but perhaps equally daunting challenge - America.

The Lost Boys were separated from their parents 12 years ago during Sudan's long-running civil war. Then there were 17,000, but now just 3,800 remain, their numbers cut by war, disease and months of trekking across an area half the size of western Europe.

Now, however, they hope to have found a home. Tonight 30 teenagers will leave Nairobi bound for New York. It will be the first of dozens of journeys which will see the 3,800 youngsters transferred from a burning-hot, fly-infested camp in northern Kenya to the richest country in the world.

Peter Lual Deng, 17, was yesterday clearing out the mud hut in Kakuma refugee camp that has been his home for eight years. "Win what you dream," read the poster on the wall. He didn't know much about Grand Rapids, Michigan, soon to be his new home. "All I know about it is that people can live in peace. There is no fighting. You can go to school but you cannot go hungry," he said.

The Lost Boys group was formed in 1988 when fighting between Sudan's government and southern rebels drove 250,000 citizens into neighbouring Ethiopia. Among them were 17,000 unaccompanied children, mostly boys.

The minors sheltered in camps until 1991, then disaster struck again, when Ethiopia was also plunged into civil war. The boys fled across the river border and back into the firing line of Sudan. About 12,000 made it across another border, this time to Kakuma.

Since then the Lost Boys have been stuck there, ignored by the Kenyan government and rejected by their own people. Even if they could brave their way back into Sudan, they could face painful rejection. Having missed out on the initiation rites - circumcision, scarification of the face, removal of the lower teeth - that mark the passage into adulthood, the boys are considered half-men, and unworthy of marriage, by Sudanese society.

Around 500 minors will have arrived in the US by Christmas, mainly to be placed in foster homes. The remainder, in their late teens and early 20s, will stream into refugee centres across the countryearly in the New Year. Yesterday in Kakuma, the enthusiasm for this latest exodus was electric.

John Awou Alier will be on tonight's flight. He will take his Dinka dictionary with him to Virginia, to help him remember his native language. He does not know a lot about the US, not having even heard of McDonalds. "Is it a university?" he asks. "Sorry, I don't know much about the food there. All we eat here is maize and beans."

His expectation is of a country where "everybody is free and equal. Tonight I will not sleep because I am so excited."

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