Sudanese refugees can vote… in Omaha


November 15th, 2010

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Flag of Sudan People's Liberation Movement (Photo courtesy Bertramz, Wikimedia Commons)

Omaha, NE – Starting this week, Omaha will be one of the three cities in the United States where people from southern Sudan can register to vote in a referendum on their country’s future. The vote stems from a 2005 settlement aimed at ending two decades of civil war in southern Sudan that killed more than two million people. Christa Yoakum is a spokeswoman for the effort in Omaha.

“The vote is for the people from southern Sudan to be able to vote either for the unity of Sudan or for secession of southern Sudan from Sudan.”

Omaha and eastern Nebraska in general have one of the largest settlements of Sudanese refugees in the United States. Yoakum said the Omaha site will handle potential voters from Ohio to Alaska. The other polling sites in the U.S. are in Virginia and Arizona. Those from northern states who want to participate will have to travel to Omaha twice: once to register, from November 15 through December 1, and again to vote, in January. Yoakum estimates that 30,000 people are eligible, and expects 20,000 to show up. She was asked how realistic that is, considering that less than half the eligible Nebraska voters turned out for the recent election.

“This is such an important issue to them. They left their country under difficult situations and I think that the importance and significance of this election will turn out more voters.”

Southern Sudan is home to significant oil deposits. The United States has expressed concern that the Sudanese government might not respect the results if southern Sudan votes to secede. Recently, it offered to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism if it respects the results. But economic sanctions, tied to Sudan’s treatment of the Darfur region in the western part of the country, will remain in place for now.

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