By Elvia Malagon
- Sudanese refugees who walked to Washington from New York were joined by college students and human rights activists on a march through the capital to urge a peaceful referendum in their home country in January.
Washington, D.C. - infoZine - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire - The walk is not over.
Thursday was the end of the Sudan Walk of Freedom that started in New York last month and ended on Capitol Hill. But Simon Deng said the walk will not stop until a peaceful referendum happens in January.
"Southern Sudan is crying for freedom," said Deng, one of the people who organized the walk. "I was walking on behalf of those who can't."
Deng was a child slave in Sudan and came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1990. He is a Coney Island lifeguard.
The referendum is part of the 2005 Sudan peace deal. Depending on the outcome of the vote, Southern Sudan could become its own nation.
However, many fear violence will spread, and the referendum will not be peaceful as promised.
A group of Sudanese activists arrives at the Capitol Thursday. They walked about 6 miles from American University, after some walked to D.C. from New York, to raise awareness about the Sudanese referendum in January, which could lead to southern Sudan becoming its own nation. SHFWire photo by Elvia Malagon
After the walk, a handful of speakers said they want the U.S. to ensure the referendum is fair and peaceful. They also wanted to raise awareness about genocide and slavery, which they say is still going on in Sudan.
The walk started at American University and ended at the Capitol 6 miles away. It drew a variety of people, including Sudanese refugees, U.S. college students and human rights activists.
Sharaf Hassan, 46, a warehouse worker, came to Washington from Greensburg, N.C., for the walk.
Hassan is from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan and came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2000.
He said he doesn't want to see the country split in two, but if that is what happens, he said he hopes it can be a peaceful process.
"The government of Sudan should stop and treat them like humans," he said.
Although American University student Sonia Groff, 20, has never been to Sudan, she came to the march to raise awareness of the issue. The junior journalism and political science major began to learn about issues surrounding Sudan in high school and has attended programs throughout her college years.
Groff said one of the things that stood out for her is that the conflict in Sudan has been ongoing for 55 years.
"That's too long," she said. "One day is too long."
Abass Ahmed, 49, a mechanical engineer, came from Cincinnati to Washington this week to participate in the freedom walk.
He left Sudan 20 years ago and was a refugee in Nigeria. Five months ago, he came to the United States as a refugee and settled in Ohio.
Ahmed said he doesn't think he can go back to Sudan. He is not sure what will happen in January but said he hopes violence doesn't break out.
"I'm praying for peace," he said.
The rally ended with Emmanuel Jal, a rap artist originally from Sudan, performing songs that deal with his experience of being a child solider.
Deng said he will continue to try to raise awareness about the referendum. He plans to try to talk to members of Congress about the U.S. helping to make sure the referendum is peaceful.
"The road of freedom is less than 100 days away," Deng said.