27 January 2004

It’s been a long, 15 year walk to freedom for ‘Lost Boy’ Abraham Aleer, but after his first year in Australia, the former Sudanese refugee has finally found his feet.

From the age of five, Abraham spent most of his life running from one refugee camp to another, fleeing soldiers and wild animals, and walking daily with death.

But as he celebrates the first anniversary of his arrival in Australia (on February 19) he has found a sense of purpose as a new Australian and a University of Queensland student.

2003 was a year of firsts for Abraham as he had never seen tall buildings, mobile phones, automatic teller machines or computers before coming to Australia.

Other firsts included appearing on a 60 Minutes program about ‘Lost Boys’, flying to Canberra during Refugee Week to give a presentation to the Ministry of Immigration, and giving talks to Rotary Clubs about his experiences,

At the end of last year Abraham also passed his first university subject, Great Issues of International Relations, after enrolling in UQ’s Bachelor of Arts program in June.

“I was very happy with my results because I was very nervous when I attended my first lecture last year,” he said. “The class in the refugee camp school was very small but at University there were lots of students in the lecture, over 300.”

This year Abraham will study full-time and has enrolled in courses in anthropology and sociology as well as political science.

“Ultimately I want to work for the United Nations or the Australian foreign affairs department as an international aid worker,” he said.

“I’ve been a refugee for 15 years. This was my childhood, and I’ve been brought up by the international community. It is my responsibility to go back and help if I can.”

Abraham spent his first Australian Christmas in Melbourne, enjoying an Aussie barbeque with kisra (a traditional African bread from his own country) and on New Year’s saw fireworks for the first time.

While waiting to resume his studies in March, Abraham is relaxing in Brisbane and doing voluntary work with other Sudanese refugees for the Queensland Program Assisting Survivors of Torture and Trauma.

Abraham’s harrowing journey as a Lost Boy spans three African continents. He was born in Sudan and in 1987 his village was attacked. His father was killed and he and his brother became separated from their mother.

“We ran away and hid in the woods and thought we would go back later,” he said. “But we couldn’t go back, there was nothing left. We saw some people walking so we followed them, we all walked together.”

Abraham is one of some 18,000 Lost Boys, a term used to describe Sudanese young men displaced by civil unrest. For many their only option was to run away or be forced to join the army and kill their own people.

The Lost Boys had to walk through desolate country and were easy prey to wild animals such as lions, hyenas and crocodiles. Many died along the way.

“We survived on water and by eating leaves from the trees,” Abraham said. “Sometimes we’d catch a fish and cook it on the fire, but not always, mostly it was just leaves.”

“My brother died on the way. He mistook some leaves, they were poisonous, and he died. Every day boys died and every day you waited for your time.”

The Boys arrived at a refugee camp in Ethiopia but when war broke out in that country in 1991, were forced to move on again. Finally they reached the Kakuma refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya where life became more settled and Abraham started school.

Abraham is one of nearly 100 Lost Boys who have been accepted into Australia. After the 60 Minutes program, Abraham discovered he had a distant cousin living in Kingston. The family had Abraham’s baby sister, who is now 15, who his mother was carrying at the time of the attack. Abraham now lives with them and is optimistic about the future.

Media: For further information contact Lynda Flower at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2339 or email l.flower@uq.edu.au).