Women refugees: the Lost Girls of Sudan
Man-eating lions, crocodiles, famine it was a terrible ordeal for thousands of boys and girls, but each group faced very different futures
Remember the Lost Boys of Sudan? Thousands of youths ripped from their homes in the late 1980s by fighting in Sudan and forced to wander for years across the east African savannah. Their amazing odyssey became the stuff of African legend.
They eventually reached Kenya, where they languished in flyblown camps for years, becoming known as The Lost Boys of Sudan, intriguing refugee officials by their very survival, before the United States eventually agreed to resettle nearly 4,000 whose parents were dead or missing.
As they flew in small groups to all parts of America, the boys became instant celebrities, interviewed endlessly in the media about their amazing survival. Forgotten in all this hoopla were the fates of several thousand girls aged between eight and ten who had undergone similar ordeals.
Achol Kuol (not her real name) was seven when she, her mother and four brothers fled their Sudanese village because of vicious fighting between rebels and government troops. They trudged first to Ethiopia, returned to Sudan and then headed south to Kenya in a trek that lasted for years.
'There was little water to drink, we survived on leaves and wild fruit,' the teenager recalled. 'Some of the girls were eaten by lions.' Somewhere in the bush she lost touch with her mother, who is still missing.
Another girl, Adeu, recalls crossing the River Gilo on the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. 'I can remember being held by two of my uncles who were helping me across. One of them was swept away and that was the last time I saw him. I was later told he had been eaten by a crocodile.'
The Sudanese youngsters, girls and boys, reached Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp in the early 1990s. The boys remained a reasonably identifiable group, which finally caught the attention and sympathy of resettlement countries. However, following Sudanese cultural traditions, many of the girls were absorbed into foster families and left to a very uncertain fate, overlooked and forgotten by the outside world.