Two of Sudan's 'Lost Boys' return home from Cuba

News Stories, 29 November 2007

© UNHCR/P.Farajallah
Archangelo Kuech Gur (left) and Michael Bol Deng pose by a UNHCR vehicle in South Sudan.

JUBA, Sudan, November 29 (UNHCR) Lots of people have heard about the "Lost Boys of Sudan" who ended up in the United States after years on the run in their war-torn country or stuck in refugee camps in surrounding countries. Not many know about the lost boys who ended up in Cuba.

For the first time, two of them have returned home with UNHCR help after more than two decades in the Caribbean island nation. Following weeks of preparations, Michael Bol Deng, 36, and Archangelo Kuech Gur, 37, reached Juba on November 15 after a two-day journey from Havana via Paris and Nairobi.

Met on their arrival by staff of the UN refugee agency and government officials, the two men said they hoped to track down relatives and build a new life in a country whose culture and language they have almost forgotten.

"We wish to welcome you warmly to participate in the development process with the skills you have learned while overseas," William Chan, deputy chairman of the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, told the returning sons.

"After I secure a job, I will then go to trace my family members whom I have not heard from for the last 23 years," said Gur, who hopes to use his doctorate in veterinary medicine to help build South Sudan's animal husbandry sector. Deng is a trained agronomist, a skill sure to be in demand in the predominantly agricultural south.

In the immediate future, both returnees plan to stay in Juba where, remarkably, they soon found long-lost relatives or friends to stay with. Gur said he hoped their example might encourage other skilled Sudanese to return to help rebuild a region devastated by years of war and still lacking vital infrastructure and basic services after three years of peace.

"Peace has come and I see no reason why qualified and well-trained colleagues should remain outside," he said, calling specifically on compatriots in Australia, Canada and the United States "to come back home and face the challenges of development."

He might have added his own cradle of education, Cuba, where hundreds of other lost boys still live. UNHCR hopes that they too might be encouraged to return to South Sudan with their expertise.

It is estimated that more than 20,000 Sudanese boys were orphaned or separated from their homes and families by the conflict in the south between 1984 and 2005. In 2001, the United States took in some 3,600, who were sent to cities around the country.

But Cuba had offered homes to youngsters from South Sudan much earlier. In 1986, the Cuban government agreed to take in a group of 600 teenage boys and provide them with primary, secondary and university education in Havana. Deng and Gur, who fled to Itang Refugee Camp in Ethiopia in 1984, were among this group.

Since the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in January 2005, UNHCR has supported the return of some 70,000 refugees to South Sudan, while more than 90,000 are believed to have returned on their own. Most have come from neighbouring countries such as Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

The UN refugee agency is also involved in programmes aimed at easing the reintegration of returnees and encouraging more people to go back, including mine clearance activities and building and rehabilitation of basic facilities such as schools, health centres and boreholes.

By Peter Farajallah and Taylor Garrett in Juba, Sudan




UNHCR country pages

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: Four Years On from IndependencePlay video

South Sudan: Four Years On from Independence

In 2011 the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence. Four years later, the world's newest nation is one of the world's worst humanitarian situations. In December 2013, conflict erupted displacing 2 million people including more than 600,000 refugees. South Sudanese has fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The crisis has especially impacted the next generation of South Sudanese, 70% of those displaced are children.
South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On

Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.