Alaskan rescues thousands of migrants from war in Northern Sudan
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - One Alaskan’s risky three-month-long trip to Northeast Africa resulted in the rescue of not only his family but over 4,000 other refugees hoping to leave the dangerous conditions in Khartoum, Northern Sudan.
John Riek’s family had been stuck in Sudan, a country that has been ripped apart by war since April. Since then, Riek hoped to head back to help his family get out of harm’s way.
“When I left for Sudan, the purpose of the trip was to get my family and the people surrounding them out, to get them out from the war in Khartoum,” Riek said.
With that goal in mind, Riek rented 14 trucks to bring what he says ended up being more than 4,000 people to safety.
The largest trucks could fit about 500 people in them during the roughly two-month-long journey from Khartoum to Unity State in Southern Sudan.
It was a risky trip, as much of Sudan is still seeing armed conflict and crime, among other things.
“There is no respect of the civilians now, the part of the group that considered has the rebels, they raping the females, they looting the homes, they killing randomly,” Riek said.
The Associated Press is reporting that more than 5,000 people have been killed and more than 12,000 others wounded since conflict broke out in Sudan, where the capital and urban areas have turned into battlefields.
“There were about 24 checkpoints between Khartoum and all the way to Unity State,” Riek said.
Riek said a certain amount of money was due at each checkpoint to stay alive and that his brother was badly beaten at one of them.
Still, according to Riek, there was not a single fatality and five women gave birth in the trucks during the journey that eventually brought thousands of refugees to safety.
After arriving in Unity State, Riek traveled with his family south to Uganda. The East African country — although safe — has received the largest number of refugees across all of Africa, leading to an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
“They don’t hear any single bullet, they hear the starvation bullet, the sleeping-on-the-floor bullet, those are men on my hand,” Riek said.
Riek’s family consists of about 61 members, which he is all supporting from working in Alaska.
Riek is more at peace now, knowing his beloved family is in a safe place.
“The job is not done from here, there will be more down the road ... if my family could come here tomorrow, I would be more happy than anything,” Riek said.
Riek’s employer, Hope Community Resources, maintained contact with the Anchorage man throughout his extraordinary trip.
Hope Community Resources Executive Director Michele Girault described Riek’s story as one of “selfless courage, deep faith, and humility.”
“He chose to run toward danger to help not only his family but the entire community they lived in,” Girault wrote in an email. “He is a man of action and I am in awe of what he has accomplished. While many of us were complaining about a rainy summer, he faced the dangers of war to serve others. His example is an inspiration and a wakeup call that each one of us has a responsibility to do what we can to elevate the human condition throughout the world.”
According to Girault, the United States has never granted refugee status to an African country and the average wait for a refugee to get to the U.S. is 18 years.
Riek’s next goal is to bring his family to Alaska, holding out hope they will receive help obtaining work permits.
“We do really encourage [the] international community or U.S. government to have more involvement [rather] than looking at it as it is a problem of Sudanese alone,” Riek said.
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