Evacuees leave Saudi Amanah after landing at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday. The fighting in Sudan, which broke out after months of escalating tension between the country’s military and a rival paramilitary group, has so far killed at least 550 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. El-Fadel Arbab’s wife and their two sons arrived in Jeddah on Monday. Associated Press

A little more than a week ago, El-Fadel Arbab feared that his wife and two sons would be killed by warring factions in Khartoum, Sudan.

Now, Arbab’s friends and supporters in Greater Portland are trying to raise $20,000 to bring his family to Maine after they were evacuated to Saudi Arabia on Monday.

El-Fadel Arbab and his wife, Zinab Sailh Abakar. Arbab credits Sen. Angus King’s staff for working on his family’s behalf. Photo courtesy of El-Fadel Arbab

His wife, Zinab Sailh Abakar, and their two sons, ages 7 and 3, were among 300 people who were transported via high-speed Navy catamaran 180 miles across the Red Sea, from the Port of Sudan to the port of Jeddah, according to U.S. military sources.

“They are safe,” Arbab said Friday. “I am grateful.”

Arbab, 39, is one of about 2,000 Mainers with ties to Sudan who are worried about family members and friends caught in a country besieged by a violent struggle between two top generals that started April 15. The relentless shelling has killed hundreds and left millions of people in and around the capital of Khartoum without food, water, shelter, electricity or the means to communicate with the outside world.

Arbab said his family is staying in a hotel in Jeddah, and he is scrambling to find an apartment and prepare a home for them in Portland. He shares an apartment with others.


“When they come, I will need my own place,” he said. “I don’t need a fancy apartment, just a place for us, but that will cost at least $5,000 with first, last and security deposit. Then I will have to buy mattresses and other basic furnishings.”

Ehab Arbab, age 3, riding a bicycle that was a gift from his uncle. Photo courtesy of El-Fadel Arbab

Like Arbab, his sons are U.S. citizens with passports, and his wife could be issued a travel visa as soon as next week, he said. He credited Sen. Angus King’s staff for working diligently on his family’s behalf.

“They worked very hard and made sure they got out,” Arbab said. “I appreciate it so much. Now, it’s all on me.”

Arbab has been striving to bring his family to Portland since 2020, he said. He came to Maine in 2004, a survivor of the genocide in Darfur, the western region of Sudan where Arab militia members known as Janjaweed destroyed over 400 villages, and more than 200,000 people died and 2 million were displaced.

Eyad Arbab, age 7, in the police costume his father bought him because he wants to be a police officer in the U.S. when he grows up. Photo courtesy of El-Fadel Arbab

He and his wife were wed overseas in 2015 in a marriage arranged by their families in Sudan. He works three jobs in Portland – two as a delivery driver and one at Bayside Bowl – to support his family and prepare a home for them in Maine.

He also volunteers widely and has spoken in schools across the U.S., sharing his experience with the genocide. He explains how his family members scattered as they fled Darfur and he was left alone at age 12 to find shelter and survive. He describes his harrowing journey from a refugee camp in Egypt to Portland.


“What I went through, I don’t want any child to go through,” Arbab said.

Holly MacEwan is one of several people who are trying to help Arbab bring his family to Maine. She is the service learning coordinator in Falmouth public schools and has arranged to have Arbab speak to students many times. She and Ryan Zamer, a junior at Falmouth High School, have set up a GoFundMe campaign that had raised more than $3,000 by late Friday.

“We wanted to help El-Fadel because he has done so much for our community,” MacEwan said.

Zamer is organizing the fundraiser as his senior community service project. He met with Arbab on Monday in the cafe at the Hannaford supermarket in Portland.

El-Fadel Arbab talks with Falmouth High School junior Ryan Zamer, who has helped organize a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to bring Arbab’s wife and two sons to Maine. They met this week at the Hannaford cafe in Portland. Photo courtesy of Holly MacEwan

“While we were talking, he was getting calls and live updates from his family in Saudi Arabia,” Zamer said. “He’s an incredible guy who has survived a lot. Hopefully the money we raise will give his family a good head start in Maine.”

The fundraiser is seeking $20,000 because Arbab must purchase furniture, clothing, food and other supplies for his family on short notice. He’s also paying for their hotel as long as they’re in Jeddah, and their airfare when they travel to the U.S.


Arbab plans to fly to Saudi Arabia so he can accompany his family to Maine because his wife speaks little English and she’s frightened to make the trip alone.

“This is something I want to do so they won’t have to be scared,” he said.

El-Fadel Arbab of Portland, whose wife and two boys were caught in the crossfire of the conflict in Sudan, were evacuated to Saudi Arabia on Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Zamer said contributions to the fundraiser have been steady, including one donation of $1,000. But Arbab said he is grateful for even the smallest amount.

“They each do a little thing, but for us it is so much,” he said. “They will save my family’s life and my family will come here and they will give back.”

Arbab still worries about the thousands of people still trapped in Sudan and waiting to get out. “They are not safe at all,” he said.

But he’s looking forward to seeing his wife and sons soon, and bringing them to Portland.

“When they come,” he said, “they will be Mainers.”

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