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 their home. Five years after they fled the part of Sudan that is now South Sudan, the United Kingdom finally gave them political asylum. That experience helps him empathize with refugees who were halted this weekend from entering the United States as a result of President Donald Trump’s executive order.

“I’ve always said I’ve been very fortunate and very lucky to have the opportunities that I have,” Deng said. “I know for a lot of refugees they can’t speak up or they can never be heard. So I wanted to just put it out there and let people know how proud I am to be a refugee and just every opportunity that I got in my life.

“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. 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.”

Deng and his eight brothers and sisters fled Sudan when he was just four 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. 

After Tuesday’s game, Deng spoke for the first time since the executive order was signed. He said he avoids politics so as not to upset people, 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 Sahabet that 800 refugees were set to resettle in the United States this week. The executive order includes language that suspends the United States’ refugee program for 120 days. It also initially banned travel from 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. 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’s backgrounds to be checked. 

“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.”

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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