Lakers’ Luol Deng shares his refugee experience in wake of Trump travel ban

Lakers forward Luol Deng drives to hoop against Utah center Rudy Gobert during a game on Dec. 27.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

As refugees living in Egypt, Luol Deng and his family woke up every day hoping that would be the day they found a new home.

Civil war forced them from a part of Sudan that is now South Sudan. Five years later the United Kingdom finally gave them political asylum. When refugees were halted this weekend from entering the United States as a result of President Trump’s executive order, Deng empathized.

“We’ve never really asked to leave my homeland, and a lot of these people go through a lot of things that they have no control of,” Deng said. “To really to see a light at the end of the tunnel and to go towards that light and then that light is turned off is very difficult, not just individually, for the family.


“I remember when I was a kid as a refugee in Egypt every day there was always a hope that we get to leave tomorrow or get to go somewhere. Never knew where, we just wanted somewhere where we wanted an opportunity to make something out of it, and that opportunity came five years later. Now I’m thankful for growing up in Egypt and I’ve learned a lot. But at the same time, I know what it feels like to wait for that opportunity to come every day.”

Deng and his eight brothers and sisters fled Sudan when he was just 4 years old. Their father, a Sudanese government official, was reportedly jailed after a coup in the country that has experienced civil war for decades. In 1994 Aldo Deng was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom, and took his family with him. Deng became a naturalized British citizen in 2006 and has dual citizenship with the U.K. and South Sudan.

On Monday Deng released a statement calling himself a “#proudrefugee.” He expressed support for refugees worldwide regardless of their religion, and support of policies that welcome them.

After Tuesday’s game, Deng spoke for the first time since Trump signed the executive order. He doesn’t like to get involved in politics, but was willing to share his perspective if it could help other refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement this week that 800 refugees were set to resettle in the United States this week. The executive order, signed Friday, includes language that suspends the United States’ refugee program for 120 days, and suspends Syrian refugees indefinitely. According to reports, the department of homeland security said Tuesday that 872 refugees would be granted waivers to enter the country.

The order also initially banned travel from citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. A later clarification said the ban did not apply to people who have green cards as legal permanent residents.


Deng and his family are not subject to the travel ban as they are from South Sudan, an independent country. Further, the department of homeland security said this week that people holding U.K. passports could enter, even if they had dual citizenship with a banned country. But Deng has friends from Sudan who were impacted.

The executive order’s stated purpose was to protect American citizens from terrorism. Deng was asked about fears worldwide that allowing refugees into a country will foster terrorism.

“If you really want to look into that, you’ve got to go into facts and what is true and what is not,” Deng said. “I mean, from what I understand, I haven’t seen a lot of refugees committing terrorist acts in this country.”

Since it took Deng’s family five years to gain asylum, he noted that was time for his family to be screened.

“I understand [a refugee’s experience] because I went through it,” Deng said. “People that are around me know it, because we speak about it and we do talk about it. The same time, I do understand when you’re told something that’s not true and you’re told to believe other things, I understand the fear and your reaction coming out of it. If somebody told me a story and that’s all I know, I’d probably act to what I’m hearing. … I don’t know what the solution is to it, but a lot of people that do support this [travel ban] are supporting it because of what they hear and what they believe also.”

Lakers tonight



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Records: Lakers 17-34; Wizards 28-20.

Record vs. Wizards (2015-16): 1-1.

Update: Wizards Coach Scott Brooks was named Eastern Conference coach of the month for January. The Wizards were 12-4 that month, the best record in the Eastern Conference, and held opponents to 43.4% shooting. They are on a 15-game winning streak at home. The Lakers listed forward Julius Randle as questionable as he recovers from pneumonia and will reevaluate him after Thursday morning’s shoot-around.

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli