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Bandak Lul knows what it’s like to live between worlds: to leave everything behind, to step into uncertainty, to be separated from home and family. Lul knows because he was a refugee — forced to flee his home with nothing but hope that the other end of the journey would offer safety and a new beginning. Now, he uses his voice to speak on behalf of others facing the same.
Lul recently returned from a trip to the nation’s capital with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, where he and a cohort of other refugees and supporters spoke before Congress to advocate for refugee issues on June 20, World Refugee Day. For Lul, it was personal. He spent 14 years growing up in refugee camps in Ethiopia after escaping civil war in his native Sudan. His family was forced to leave due to their ethnic background, as well as their religious and political views.
While in Washington, D.C., Lul and others talked about ensuring the administration keeps its promises regarding refugee admissions for this fiscal year as well as urging the government to keep families together.
“I haven’t seen my family in nearly 13 years now,” shared Lul. “I cannot imagine what those children are going through and not knowing exactly what is happening. I took it dearly to advocate on their behalf.”
After coming to the United States in 2006 as an unaccompanied minor, Lul went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University. Now, Lul is a project manager and researcher for the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research housed in the ASU’s School of Social Work. His research focuses on sex trafficking within refugee populations.
Upon returning from the nation’s capital, Lul had the special honor of attending the 15th annual International Human Rights Youth Summit as the representative for South Sudan — a country he hasn’t been able to return to for 22 years.
He was one of 60 delegates from 60 different countries all converging in New York City for the event. The summit brings people from around the world together to share, encourage and inspire global peace and tolerance. Hosted by Youth for Human Rights International, there is special emphasis on teaching youth about human rights in general and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in particular.
The experience afforded him the opportunity to network with other young men and women committed to human rights and forge international friendships. He was also able to meet the U.N. Secretary in addition to presidents, ambassadors and other government leaders from across the globe.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity,” Lul said. “I appreciate the work I’m doing at ASU and the people who believed in me and made it possible for me to represent South Sudan."
One of his biggest champions is Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, director of the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and the person who encouraged him to apply.
“I am thrilled to have nominated Bandak for the United Nations event,” Roe-Sepowitz said. “He is an outstanding representative of ASU and the human trafficking and social justice work we do.”
There is still much advocacy work ahead for Lul. He wants to bring his expertise to his birth country in hopes of improving conditions there.
“We don’t have any regulations on forced marriage and child marriage,” Lul said. “Also we don’t have any regulations on child labor, so these are the kinds of things I want to get into as I progress with the work I’m doing at ASU.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story referenced Lul's advocacy work with Lutheran Migration and Refugee Services, which has since been corrected to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.