Lost boys escued by Uncle Sam

8th December 2000 at 00:00

Wachira Kigotho reports on the US decision to take in orphan children who have been refugees for a decade.

THE United States has offered school places to 4,000 Sudanese children who have been living in refugee camps in northern Kenya for more than 10 years.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Nairobi, the children will be resettled in Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia, as well as other American cities. They will be helped to attend school by various charities.

Officials from Operation Lifeline Sudan said this was the first time the commission had approved a resettlement of a large number of unaccompanied children to a third country.

Most of the young immigrants are orphaned boys who fled the war in southern Sudan in the late 1980s, though there are also 68 girls in the group. Aid officials said that cultural factors account for the relatively small number of girls. Many girls displaced by the war were taken in by other families in Sudan or forced into marriage.

The first batch of 50 "lost boys" from the Kakuma refugee camp were airlifted to the US two weeks ago.

The rescue operation was mounted after a ruitless search by the Red Cross to locate relatives of the children in war-torn southern Sudan, where Christian rebels have been fighting the Islamic

government in Khartoum for two decades and few schools exist other than those run by aid agencies.

Many of the children were only five years old when they trekked for miles through hostile scrubland from southern Sudan to Kakuma, a tiny hamlet in the arid Turkana district of Kenya.

Plans are under way to have 300 of the youngest members of the group fostered. "These children want to try to make something for themselves," said an aid official.

After completing their education, the immigrants will be given help to find jobs in the US. From 2004, they will be entitled to apply for citizenship.

The resettlement of the young immigrants also comes as the Rwandan government is asking European countries to return children who were rescued by charities during the 1994 genocide.

Last week, Rwandan president Paul Kagame appealed to Lawyers Without Borders to file cases in various western European capitals in an effort to force governments and charities to repatriate about 30,000 children living with foster parents.

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