Yien: Refugee turned Tourist

July 12, 2022


Yien never imagined returning to Israel after twelve years, having fulfilled his dream of going to Bible school, marrying Jasmin, and with three beautiful boys in tow.

     When refugees from South Sudan began straggling on foot over the Egyptian border in 2007 after fleeing the civil war in their homeland, in the Shelter Hostel we quickly became involved with the hundreds of men, women, and children coming to our town. Many slept in the hostel, and even more came to our Friday shabbat meetings. We went daily to a nearby hostel-turned-refugee-camp, volunteered in refugee day care centers, and our lives intertwined.

     As we came to know Yien, John quickly recognized his leadership potential, and I was so impressed with his story and ability to convey it that he was one of the five people I interviewed for my book, “A People Tall and Smooth – Stories of Escape from South Sudan to Israel.”

     Meanwhile, Jasmin from Switzerland was tired of her job and felt drawn to Africa. After coming to the Shelter as a guest and meeting the refugees, she realized she could help by teaching them English. In one of her first conversations with Yien, she asked why he looked sad.

     “My dream is to go to Bible school,”  Yien said, “but I don’t see how it will happen.”

     Yien and Jasmin’s relationship developed, culminating in their engagement party in Eilat, but the only place they could marry was in South Sudan, so in 2010 Yien returned there while Jasmin went back to London where she’d been living, flying soon afterward to join Yien. After their simple marriage ceremony, Yien applied for a visa to England and five months later, he was accepted.

     Still dreaming of Bible school, Yien studied for his Bachelor of Theology in Addis Ababa. Upon completion, they moved to Switzerland for what they expected would be a short time but stretched into four years in which time Yien was able to receive a Swiss passport. Now they could return to Israel they thought and assembled a folder full of documents for their visa application while I filled in an “invitation” for them at the Ministry of Interior. Unfortunately, however, Yien’s request was rejected.

     After Switzerland, God led Yien and Jasmin and the three boys who been added to their family, Joshua, Jesse, and Jeremiah, to Thessaloniki Greece. Yien worked in a Refugee Center among mainly North Africans, Iraqis, Syrians, and Afghans using his ability as an Arabic speaker and his experience as a refugee himself to connect and meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

     However, the blow of Corona caused the Center to close while at the same time the flow of refugees was drying up, so Yien and Jasmin are heading back to Switzerland. Maybe this would be a good time to try again to come to Israel? Praying and consulting a lawyer, Jasmin again assembled a multitude of documents, and this time the immigration officer in Ben Gurion Airport simply asked,

      “How long do you want to stay, and what is the purpose of your trip?”

     “Three weeks and tourism,” Yien answered.

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