Sudanese refugees begin voting Sunday in Omaha

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January 7th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Thousands of Sudanese refugees began heading to the polls Sunday, including one polling site in Omaha, to vote in a critical referendum. It’s meant to finally end a bloody civil war, but it could spark another.

Tipkwan Ajang, Sudanese native and Omaha resident, shows off his inked thumb, after registering his name to vote (Photo Robyn Wisch)

Sudanese refugees began their journey several weeks ago. To register their names at polling sites, they traveled within Sudan, around Africa, to Australia, and around the United States. Omaha was one of just a few cities to host a registration site, and refugees traveled from Chicago, Iowa and around the Midwest to get there.

“This time is our time,” said Sudanese native James Angok, who traveled from Grand Island to register his name. “We grow up in the war, now we are adults. It’s our time to make the right choice.”

What the vote, which begins Sunday and continues through Jan. 15, will decide is whether Southern Sudan splits from the North to form its own independent country. It’s the final step in a peace process that ended 40 plus years of civil war. The North, run by a strictly Islamic government headed by President Omar-Al-Bashir has been accused of committing war crimes against the south, and ravaging oil reserves. Al-Bashir is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

“They already know he’s a criminal,” said Malakal Goak, a native of Sudan and founder of the nonprofit, Caring People Sudan, in Omaha. “So they shouldn’t let criminals do what they want to do if there’s any law in this world.” Goak is referring to the international community, who he said should intervene to protect the Southern Sudanese from retribution.

The vote is only the first step, Goak said, and he doubts the fight will end there. “There will be a war, it’s very imminent,” he said. “It’s one thing we all know will happen. They wouldn’t just let Southern Sudan go like that, unless the international community stops it.”

Another fear is that if Southern Sudan is allowed to split, the government doesn’t have the power, infrastructure or stability to fulfill the people’s hopes of independence:  hopes that many of the refugees, including several thousand who live in Omaha, are holding on to.

Deng Truok Liem, who traveled from Des Moines, Iowa with his wife to get to Omaha, voiced what many refugees at the polling site echoed about the life in Southern Sudan they hoped would change.

“We have no school, no hospital. If you ask me for my birth certificate, I cannot give it to you, because we don’t have hospital, we have nothing, we don’t have school. We want to be free.

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