Karen Bass
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass is the leading Democrat on the Africa subcommittee and is trying to bring attention to Sudanese children displaced by the war. (AFRO File Photo)

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) recently convened a symposium on the contentious situation in the Sudan region of Africa. It included information on how young immigrants, living in the U.S., are working to bring about peace in their homeland.

Bass, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the top party member on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Africa subcommittee, held abreakfast on April 15 on Capitol Hill titled: “Lost Boys and Lost Girls and their Commitment to South Sudan.” Bass said the topic is timely given the volatile situation in that part of the world. “We celebrated the formation of the world’s newest nation – South Sudan in 2011,” the representative said. “The United States supported the creation of South Sudan but difficulties have developed there since.” 

There has been tension between the Muslims, who live in northern Sudan, and the darker-skinned Christians, living in the southern region, since the country achieved independence from Great Britain in 1956. In 1983, a civil war erupted between the north and the south that lasted until 2005, with an estimated 2.5 million people killed and millions displaced. 

One consequence of the war was the displacement of 20,000 boys and girls who were left in refugee camps. Many left Sudan and were placed in other African countries, Europe, and the United States, permanently. There was also a wave of “lost” children in the post-independence violence of South Sudan during 2011-2013 that fled the country to live in other parts of the world. 

Princeton N. Lyman, senior advisor for the U.S. Institute of Peace and former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria, said, “There is a fragile peace in place and there are no troops from the African Union there to monitor the situation. What is needed is enormous support from the African Union to keep the peace and there needs to be an arms embargo imposed by the international community on both countries.” 

The horrific loss of life and displacement affected the type of aid the international community rendered primarily to South Sudan. Augustino Ting Mayai, assistant professor at the University of Juba and former “lost boy,” said international aid often comes in the form of humanitarian assistance, which is appreciated, but other types of assistance are needed. “We have over 280 non-governmental organizations in my country but we need more developmental assistance,” Mayai said. “We need to strengthen the relationship between the American and South Sudan people, and we need the American’s sustained support in developing and building our country.” 

David Acouth, another former “lost boy,” is a legislative fellow for Bass and her advisor on African affairs. Acouth said when he was in refugee camps in northern Kenya and Ethiopia many of the children bonded and “became family.” 

“In 1999, the U.S. faith-based community brought many of us to the United States and a lot of us are doing well here,” Acouth said. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I am walking the halls with Congresswoman Bass. I have gone from that life as a ‘lost boy’ to working in the U.S. House of Representatives.” 

Nyamai Biel is a “lost girl,” who emphasized the unique struggles young women faced in refugee camps and in the U.S. “We hear a lot about the ‘lost boys’ but what about the ‘lost girls’,” Biel said. “It is the women who have held the families together while the men were out fighting. Women should be able to get an education and contribute to the nation-building needed in South Sudan.” 

Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) said that support for South Sudan is strong in the U.S. Congress. “I have been working for harmony for South Sudan,” Lee said. “We want to help the ‘lost boys’ and ‘lost girls’ restore the greatness of South Sudan.”