Sudanese refugees living in Anchorage have vehicles vandalized

Mohammed Hano and Mobarak Albadawi, refugees from a violent conflict in a distant African country who now live in Anchorage, say they woke Sunday morning to find their cars covered in messages telling them to leave the place that was supposed to be their final, safe home.

"Not Welcome," "Leave Alaska," "Move out," and "Go Now" were among the words scrawled on the Chevy Blazer and Chevy Lumina parked in their Spenard driveway. The tires on both vehicles had also been deflated.

Hano, Albadawi and three other roommates at a Dorbrandt Street apartment complex are refugees from Darfur, a region in the African nation of Sudan that has been embroiled in a brutal, ongoing conflict since 2003.

By Sunday afternoon, the graffiti had been washed off and tires were on their way to being reinflated. But the men say the sense of safety they've built in Anchorage is broken.

"I'm a refugee. I left my country because of this war, and come over here to live in peace and secure and protected," said Hano, who came to Alaska nearly five years ago and works at Providence Alaska Medical Center. He is studying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Now, "I feel like I need to move immediately," he said. "Any moment from now, something could happen to me."

The men say they are also bewildered by what they see as the dismissive response of police. To them, the vandalism is a hate crime.


Hano said he called police but was told no officer would come out to investigate.

"I'm very disappointed," he said.

Mobarek Suleiman, another one of the roommates, said it would be easy to identify the culprit by watching footage from a surveillance camera pointed at the street and mounted at the Hells Angels clubhouse next door to their apartment. The Hells Angels, the men say, have been perfectly nice neighbors.

The vandalism doesn't fit the definition of a hate crime, said Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Anita Shell. A hate crime is defined as "discrimination against a person's race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability," she wrote in an email.

"The victim's perception may be that this crime is racially motivated, but we can't prove that the intent of the vandalism was racially motivated," she wrote. "The words themselves had nothing discriminatory about them."

Police did take a report on the incident, according to Shell.

"It was classified as vandalism and was treated like all other vandalism calls," she wrote.

That's not the way it feels to Hano.

"The message says move out," he said.

The men are part of a community of about 50 refugees from the Darfur region who live in Anchorage, said Debbie Bock, a UAA Spanish instructor and former social worker who has been close with many of Anchorage's Darfurians for years.

For single adult men such as the roommates, a resettlement placement in Alaska means efforts to reunite them with other family members have been all but exhausted.

"The reason why they are in Alaska is because they have no one," Bock said. "If they can reunite you with family, they do."

In Anchorage, the men "create a family with the guys they live with," she said. Often, they hold down two or more jobs.

Darfurian refugees are traumatized by the conflict that forced them from their home, she said.

"Somebody should have embraced them as victims," Bock said. "They were simply given a total brush-off."

The men are already planning to leave their apartment building.

After talking to the men on Dorbrandt Street Sunday morning, Bock went to church at the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and told the congregation what happened. People donated more than $600 to the men.

"Now they're looking at that money as a down payment on a different apartment," she said.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.