FROM CON­FLICT TO SAFETY

COUN­TRY MUST ED­U­CATE YOUTH TO CRE­ATE CHANGE AND EN­COUR­AGE PEACE

Shepparton News - - FRONT PAGE - By Rhi­an­non Tuffield

To mark Refugee Week from June 18 to 24, The News is run­ning a se­ries of sto­ries on im­mi­grants now liv­ing in Shep­par­ton to cel­e­brate their con­tri­bu­tion.

To­day, we tell the story of Thon Makuei Thon.

It has been 32 years since Thon Makuei Thon left his vil­lage in ru­ral South Su­dan and walked for a month to­wards a refugee camp in Kenya, spend­ing decades in limbo be­fore he ar­rived in Aus­tralia.

As the refugees of 2017 sleep out­side homes and walk along high­ways hold­ing plas­tic bags con­tain­ing all they own, Mr Thon won­ders if any­one cares or if on­go­ing fight­ing will ever cease.

Bit­ter con­flict and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tions in South Su­dan have driven fam­i­lies from homes since 1956, when the coun­try’s first civil war be­tween the north and south tore the coun­try apart.

Count­less gov­ern­ments and peace agree­ments have failed to bring sta­bil­ity to the coun­try, spark­ing famine and fur­ther civil wars that have car­ried into 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees, 3.3 mil­lion peo­ple have been dis­placed since conf lict be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and rebel groups reignited in 2016, mak­ing it the world’s third largest refugee cri­sis be­hind Syria and Afghanistan.

Mr Thon said wars had been a part of his life grow­ing up, but con­flict took a se­ri­ous turn in 1985 when gov­ern­ment forces at­tacked his vil­lage.

Only a child at the time, Mr Thon be­came a part of Su­dan’s Lost Boys and was stranded for 14 years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, be­fore he was ac­cepted into Aus­tralia via a hu­man­i­tar­ian visa.

Re­sid­ing safely in Shep­par­ton, the con­flict he reads about, watches and hears through news re­ports and his own fam­ily back home are a daily re­minder of a time not so long ago.

‘‘Ev­ery year we hope there will be a so­lu­tion to it, years ago we thought maybe when the politi­cians took their po­si­tion and the coun­try be­came in­de­pen­dent, we thought that would be a so­lu­tion,’’ Mr Thon said.

‘‘There is no or­der, and the con­sti­tu­tion now is one which has been made by the mil­i­tary to ben­e­fit the mil­i­tary and not the civil­ians.

‘‘When we came here, we re­alised there was a big gap be­tween our coun­tries, when we once thought there was no peace any­where on Earth.’’

The wars have torn apart fam­i­lies, schools, houses and busi­nesses and Mr Thon is still try­ing to come to terms with his child­hood vil­lage not ex­ist­ing any­more.

‘‘It’s re­ally very sad right now, be­cause we thought our gen­er­a­tion we would suf­fer and, if we sac­ri­ficed our­selves, as­sumed in­de­pen­dency, things would get bet­ter,’’ Mr Thon said.

‘‘But it’s still with an­other gen­er­a­tion and it makes some­one like me feel very un­happy.’’

While the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try’s cap­i­tal has im­proved in re­cent months, fight­ing and eth­nic vi­o­lence are ram­pant in other ar­eas.

In­ter­na­tional diplo­matic ef­forts are fo­cused on the de­ploy­ment of a 4000-strong re­gional pro­tec­tion force — an ef­fort Mr Thon said would do lit­tle to quell an out­break of ma­jor vi­o­lence.

He said the coun­try’s big­gest is­sue was ed­u­cat­ing the younger gen­er­a­tions to cre­ate change and en­cour­age peace, which would be dif­fi­cult given the lack of school­ing avail­able within the coun­try, paired with poverty and po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion.

‘‘Right now, it is hard to know where the coun­try will go in the fu­ture,’’ Mr Thon said.

‘‘The trauma for the peo­ple will al­ways be there, and the best thing is to lis­ten to them, and ask for more in­for­ma­tion be­fore you make your judge­ment.’’

Lost Boy of Su­dan: Thon Thon was among the 27 000 dis­placed boys of Su­dan in the early 1980s.

Pic­ture: AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Chang­ing the fu­ture: Chil­dren look through a tear in the tar­pau­lin tents that serve as ex­tra class­rooms, for a mixed class of South Su­danese refugee chil­dren and Ugan­dan chil­dren.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.