“God planted Catholic missionaries to aid my journey”: Former South Sudanese Refugee

Dr. Emmanuel Malish Taban. Credit:

On the occasion of World Refugee Day marked Monday, June 20, a former refugee who fled war-torn South Sudan, has highlighted the role of the Catholic Church in general and Catholic missionaries in particular in his life journey.

In an interview with ACI Africa, world renowned Pulmonologist and author Dr. Emmanuel Malish Taban said, “God somehow planted all the Catholic missionaries along my way to aid my journey to where I am today.”

In the Monday, June 20 interview Dr. Taban who fled war-torn Sudan when he was 16 years old said he feels indebted to the Catholic Church for the assistance received throughout his journey to South Africa.

“Catholics, Catholic missionaries, Catholic Church at large have done so much for me, and I will always feel very indebted to them,” he said, and added, “And of course not to me alone, but to majority of refugees around the continent who find themselves in the midst of conflicts, journeying to safer places with no family, no place to stay, so the only place where they seek refuge is the Church.”

The 44-year-old Catholic who fled from Sudan, in what is today South Sudan, said that he always sought help from the Catholic Church during his journey, mostly on foot, from his hometown in Juba to South Africa.


In the June 20 interview with ACI Africa, Dr. Taban recalled the first time he sought help from the Catholic Church, after being released from prison where he had been tortured for a period of three months at the hands of government forces. He said he was falsely accused of spying for the rebels.

“I think the first time I received help from the Catholic Church was in Eritrea, when I fled South Sudan, after being released from prison. Caritas actually assisted me with the funds that took me up to Kenya”, he said.

He continued, “And at the same time when I decided to move to South Africa, it was the Catholic Church that helped me in Tanzania and also in Mozambique until I reached here.”

Once he reached Johannesburg, South Africa, 18 months after fleeing Sudan, he sought help at the Cathedral of Christ the King, from there the Comboni Missionaries, who he says facilitated his education, offered him the much-needed assistance.

“When I arrived in South Africa in 1995, nearly turning 18-year-old, I was a street child in Johannesburg with absolutely nothing. And the Catholic missionaries known as the Comboni missionaries came to my rescue”, Dr. Taban recalled during the June 20 interview.

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The pulmonologist and author who was named one of the100 most influential Africans of 2020 by London-based New African magazine acknowledged the help he received from the Comboni Missionaries in South Africa to legalize his status in the country.

He said in reference to the Comboni Missionaries, “They actually took me in and gave me shelter; at the same time they recognized that I was still young and could also benefit from education, so they were able to help me to get to enroll into school in South Africa.”

The Comboni Missionaries, he went on to say, “also helped me to get my refugee status, and supported me morally and also spiritually; they played a key role in my life and as you can imagine, being alone at the age 18, a street child with no father, the missionaries were my guardians.”

“I think the Catholic Church has played a greater role in Africa for a number of years, centuries and I wasn't exceptional to that; and most of our leaders in Africa were actually educated by Catholic schools, most good leaders came from Catholic schools,” the 44-year-old medical doctor who became well-known for his novel methods in the treatment of COVID-19 patients in 2020 told ACI Africa.

The Pretoria-based doctor said that the postponed ecumenical visit that would see Pope Francis visit South Sudan alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace is “a strong indication that the international community is tired of the war in South Sudan.”


“South Sudan is the youngest country in Africa and has been engulfed in a senseless war, a tribal-based war. As a result, the majority of people in South Sudan are mostly displaced or living in refugee camps in terrible inhumane conditions”, said Dr. Taban.

The former South Sudan refugee who has lost both parents and siblings due to the war in his native country further said in reference to his compatriots back home, “Those people are suffering; children are missing out on education and the cycle of violence will never stop.”

“A visitation of Pope Francis to South Sudan will be a strong indication that the international community (is) tired of war in South Sudan. We need peace; the peace agreement that was signed needs to be reinforced,” he said during the June 20 interview.

Dr. Taban added, “It's important that international leaders hear the plea of the people of South Sudan. We need peace; our students should live in a gun-free country; people should be allowed an opportunity to pick up their lives. Those who have lost many to try to regain their life again.”

“Pope Francis should not cancel his visit; he must come and visit. It really will go the long way to the people of South Sudan who are really suffering. And I hope that the visit will happen soon, and when he does visit, I'll be in South Sudan to welcome him,” he further said.

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Refugees should not be victims, Dr. Taban went on to say, adding that refugees need to reach out to citizens of the host country and “integrate in the community.”

Focusing his attention to his past life in South Africa as a refugee, he said that refugees “should also contribute positively to the development of South Africa and the community at large.”

“So, don’t be a victim, no matter what has happened in your past; the worst is over. Be positive and focused on positivity in the country,” Dr. Taban told ACI Africa during the June 20 interview, and added, “There’s more positivity in South Africa than negative.”

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.