Who are the Lost Boys?

Lost Boys Word Cloud Courtesy of Dr. Mark B. Durieux


The civil war in Sudan has separated thousands of Sudanese children from their families. Forced to flee from their homes, these children subsequently traveled significant distances to reach refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, and Khartoum, and many do not survive the perilous journey.

The media has focused on a group of refugee children internationally referred to as the “Lost Boys” of Sudan.  After fleeing their homes and living for years in refugee camps, these Lost Boys have been relocated to Ethiopia, Kenya, and the United States.  Various organizations helped relocate roughly 3,500 boys to the United States in 2001, and there are an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 southern Sudanese natives currently living in at least 38 cities across the country. Post September 11, 2001 security concerns temporarily halted the resettlement program, but the program resumed activity in 2004.  As of 2006, the largest concentration of Sudanese refugees is in Omaha, Nebraska.

The media pays noticeably less attention to the “Lost Girls” of Sudan, and this lack of coverage results from several factors. Firstly, in Sudanese society, a boy must present his fiancée’s family with 100 cattle before marriage. Because of this tradition, Sudanese families had an economic incentive to adopt Lost Girls.  Secondly, the 1999 U.S. resettlement program stated that only orphaned children were eligible for resettlement. Because these Lost Girls had been living in their new family units for up to fourteen years, they were no longer considered orphans and therefore were not eligible for the resettlement program.

News Coverage

Lopez Lomong carries the flag of United States during the opening ceremonies for the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Local News Coverage

From 2000 up to the present, the Bangor Daily News published two articles pertaining to the Lost Boys, and the Portland Press Herald published four.

Five of the six articles referred to specific individuals like Lopez Lomong, a Lost Boy and member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, and Aruna Kenyi, a Lost Boy living in Portland.  The remaining article was a more general discussion of the Sudan referendum “The Final Walk to Freedom.”

National News Coverage

The Washington Post yielded thirty articles, but only fifteen dealt directly with the Lost Boys, and most of these articles were reviews of the book “What is the What” or the documentary “The Lost Boys.”  The New York Times published many articles, including book and documentary reviews as well as stories of specific Lost Boys. The search results from USA Today highlighted ongoing discussions in the Sudanese community regarding if they should return to Sudan to help the country rebuild. For example, a simple Google search for “Lost Boy fleeing” brings up numerous articles about the same Lost Boy from Maine and his decision to visit Sudan, each article with practically the same title and hopeful story.

Many Tennessee newspapers, magazines, and online news sites featured stories about the Lost Boys. These results may be attributed to the fact that a growing number of refugees and immigrants are relocating to Tennessee.  Additionally, many college and university newsletters, such as the Yale Globalist (Yale College) and The Corsair (Santa Monica College), also published articles regarding the Lost Boys. These articles are interesting because they are written by undergraduate and graduate students with developing perspectives on contemporary and international issues.

International News Coverage

The Sudan Tribune is a non-profit website based in Paris that is operated by a team of independent Sudanese and international journalists.  The Sudan Tribune promotes plural information and democratic and free debate on Sudan and is not related to the Sudan Tribune distributed daily in Khartoum and Juba.  Like previous news sources, these articles focused on specific Lost Boys and the general Sudanese migration to the United States.

Recurring Themes

News coverage of The Lost Boys has been generally sympathetic to their plight and receptive to the resettlement process. The articles also highlighted an apparent spirit of dual-nationalism; Sudanese refugees expressed interest in returning to Sudan to help with the nation-building process, but wanted to raise their children in the U.S.

The articles also stressed that the Lost Boys value education and reported that several organizations work to assist Lost Boys over the age of eighteen obtain their GEDs.  Finally, the majority of the articles that we read pertained to specific Lost Boys or reviewed books or documentaries relating to the Lost Boys.

Grand Rapids Press News Service Photo/Jennifer Harnish Proud graduate: William Chol received his master's degree from Western Michigan University.

What’s Missing?

Alternative perspectives were noticeably absent from the media; there were no articles or blogs critical of the Lost Boys resettlement process, though there were suggestive comments in response to articles about the Sudanese population’s considerations in returning home. There was also minimal news coverage on the Lost Boys from the beginning of the conflict in the 1970s and 1980s. Also, there were very few articles pertaining to the use of child soldiers.