CBS News' "60 Minutes" features IOM’s work in Sudan

By Leonard Doyle

THE LOST Boys (and Girls) of Sudan were named after Peter Pan's posse of orphans. But the 1,000 mile odyssey the ragged, bone-thin refugees endured while shuttling over five years from Sudan to Ethiopia, back to Sudan and finally to Kenya was no fairy tale.

Many of the boys survived the armed attacks on their villages by government and militia troops because they were away tending cattle. Orphaned, they wandered in search of refuge and over half died along the way. Some starved, fell from illness only to be picked off by vultures. Others were attacked by wild animals, including crocodiles, or killed by enemy soldiers. They were judged to be the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined when they finally straggled in long thin columns into Kenya.

A small percentage of the Lost Boys were reunited with their families, but by 1996 there were still 17,000 living in refugee camps. In 2001, the US began a resettlement program with IOM, now judged among the most successful of such programs ever. Most of the girls were ineligible for resettlement to the US because they had already been fostered out with local Sudanese families under Islamic custom.

Some 3,361 Lost Boys were eventually resettled in the US between 1999 and 2002. Of those 524 were unaccompanied minors below 18 years of age. As described by 12-year anniversary 60 Minutes documentary, the boys were scattered across 38 American cities. Some went from the searing heat of the African plain to such places as Fargo, North Dakota where the temperature was15 below with an additional wind chill factor of minus 20, making it one of the coldest places on the continent. Somehow, the boys survived the loneliness, the hardships and the snowy plains and flourished in their new environment.

“Most spoke some degree of English, “ recalled IOM’s David Derthick who worked on the resettlement program.

“They were not burdened by family responsibilities and, as such, it was possible for them to live together in groups of 3-5 (and save money) and work and go to school at the same time.  There are many university graduates among this group, and some will return home and assume leadership positions in South Sudan.”

There were two ‘Lost Boy’ flights in the air at the time of the 9/11 Al Qaidi attacks on America and both flights were diverted to Canada and then back to Europe before returning to the US later when given arrival clearance.

The Lost Boys whose story is told in the two 60 Minutes films came from what is now South Sudan, and IOM played a cameo role behind the scenes in facilitating the identification of one of the “Lost Boys’” mother, by bringing her to Juba and arranging a Skype call between Juba and the US.

The hardships suffered by the Lost Boys and Girls in their five year odyssey are undeniable. In May 2001 a New York Times Magazine article described “a rangy, slightly walleyed boy named William Deng’” telling his story when safely arrived in America.

“He was dressed in a high-school wrestling sweatshirt and neatly pressed khakis. He carefully removed his baseball cap before beginning to speak in precise, practiced English.”

“It was November 1987. As was the custom for boys in the Dinka tribe, William spent much of his time tending to his family's cattle in the bush several miles from his village in the Upper Nile region and camping out at night with his two brothers and a couple of cousins. One afternoon, they heard the sound of gunfire near the village, but dismissed it, figuring that bandits had come to raid for food.

 ''The next morning, we were about to go home when we saw the smoke,'' William continued. ''I climbed a tree and saw that my whole village was burned.'' When the boys went to investigate, their fears were confirmed. ''Nobody was left standing. Some were wounded; some were killed. My father was dead in the compound. So we just ran away. I was 5 years old at the time.''

Read the full article from May 2001 here

Watch the 60 Minutes Overtime video here:  Part 1 |  Part 2

Leonard Doyle is the head of Online Communications for IOM