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Australian lawyer, Deng Adut (b. 1983), was in a refugee camp and kinship care as a child.

Deng Thiak Adut was born in Malek, a fishing village on the Nile River in the Republic of South Sudan. At the age of six, he was taken from his family and conscripted into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to fight in a civil war.

As a child soldier, Deng underwent military training and was forced to march for 33 days to Ethiopia. By the age of eleven, he was fighting on the front lines. He survived exploding landmines, bombs, bullet wounds, measles, and cholera, and watched many other children die. 

After six years in the Army, Deng was reunited with his older brother John, who smuggled him out of Sudan in a corn sack on the back of a truck. In a refugee camp in Kenya, the pair befriended an Australian family and, with their help, in 1998 Deng, his brother John and John’s family were the third Sudanese family to arrive in Australia as refugees.  

When he first began his new life in Western Sydney, Deng had never been to school and could not speak English. He lived with his brother and enrolled in an intensive English course at TAFE. In 2005, Adut won a scholarship to study law at Western Sydney University.

Now a partner in his own law firm, much of Deng’s practice consists of pro-bono work. Deng is committed to helping those who are disadvantaged and who experience discrimination in Australia. 

My firm is the most inclusive firm in the country. Whether you are black or white you’ll be treated the same. If you don’t have the money, you’ll be treated the same way as if you have money.

Deng returned to visit Sudan in 2012, where he reconnected with his mother. Deng’s brother John was unable to find work in Australia despite earning a double degree in anthropology and international development. Tragically, he was killed in 2014 after returning to Sudan to undertake humanitarian work.

In 2015, Deng Adut starred in a marketing video put out by Western Sydney University which had over 2.8 million views. He gave the 2016 Australia Day address and in 2017 was named the NSW Australian of the Year.

A portrait of Deng won the People’s Choice Award for the Archibald Prize in 2016.

In 2016, Deng formed the John Mac Foundation to honor his brother’s memory. Deng hopes the foundation will enable many others from humanitarian and refugee backgrounds “to contribute something positive here rather than be angry.”

The foundation offers scholarships, mentoring, and outreach to schools in Australia. 


“Our Work”. John Mac Foundation, 2017.

Heath, Nicola. “Deng Thiak Adut: ‘Refugees are not here to do miracles.’” SBS News, 9 October 2017.

La Pauvretè, Vaincre. “Child soldier to refugee lawyer: This is Deng Thiak Adut’s story”. Global Citizen. 6 January 2015.

Mottram, Linda. “From child soldier to refugee lawyer: Deng Thiak Adut’s inspiring journey from Sudan to Sydney.” ABC News, 10 September 2015.   

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