FROM CONFLICT TO SAFETY
COUNTRY MUST EDUCATE YOUTH TO CREATE CHANGE AND ENCOURAGE PEACE
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.
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.