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Teen refugees tell how prejudice results in war

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Religious warfare in southern Sudan tore 16-year-old Athian Deng's family apart. Unexpected raids forced her mother to Egypt and she and her sister to northern Sudan then to Egypt. Her brothers now live in Canada. Her father's whereabouts have been unknown for eight years. Last time she heard, he was living "somewhere in Africa."

Sanela Babanovic, 18, said it was hard to attend school in her native Bosnia. While in class, shooting could be heard from the hills outside of town. To avoid being hit by bullets "you'd have to run to school," she said.

Besnik Bytyqi, 17, said his uncle and his brother's best friend were both killed during fighting in Kosovo.

These teenagers and 10 others, now refugees in Salt Lake City, attended a weekend conference at Westminster College on hate and discrimination. The event was organized by the Human Rights Resource Center of Utah and Youth Refugees of Utah for World Peace.

Prejudice can be unconscious, but it can escalate to attempted genocide, as illustrated by the experiences of the 13 youths, said Carla Kelley, director of the Human Rights Resource Center. They encountered the worst forms of prejudice in their native countries but didn't totally escape it when arriving in Utah. Although obviously not as extreme, "subtle and unconscious" prejudice is still hurtful. They experience it mostly at school, Kelley said.

In addition to discussing their experiences with prejudice, they talked about how to combat it. They plan to share presentations with the community, Kelley said.

"We need . . . to become aware of the biases we have," Kelley said. "It's bringing awareness to the plight of refugees and, as a community, how we are being injured by our biases."

E-MAIL: lhancock@desnews.com