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Swan goes to Liberia to assess refugee problem

Date: 12/30/2008

By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD State Rep. Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield, has headed off to Liberia, Africa, for 14 days. The day before his Dec. 16 departure, he and African missionary Torli Krua spoke to an intimate crowd at Dunbar Community Center about their refugee efforts.

Krua, founder of Universal Human Rights International, spends the majority of his time establishing support groups in local churches and within communities to bridge the cultural and linguistic barriers between Americans and refugees.

"What we do isn't just for African people, it's for all people," Krua said.

Swan said there are a number of Liberians in the United States that are under a peculiar status. He explained that they are not classified as refugees and could be deported at will. He and Krua's organization are working to get resolution and the granting of refugee status.

"If you don't have refugee status, you can't get a green card or a job to support your family," Swan said.

According to information released by the Universal Human Rights International, many of the African countries, including Sudan and Nigeria, persecuting Christians are the origin of the refugees and immigrants coming to America. His ministry, based in Boston, helps connect local refugees and immigrant communities, recruit and train volunteers from the church to serve refugees and share resources.

He met Swan several years ago and agreed to speak in Springfield to bring light to the plight of these refugees while garnering support for the cause. Swan said there is no person he knows of who has called attention to the plight like Krua.

Swan said that the National Black Caucus of State Legislators is trying to impact the policy of the federal government.

Krua said there has been some stabilization in Liberia. They now have the first woman president of any African country, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He said that 10 past presidents of Liberia were educated in the U.S, but things are still not well for those in need.

"Africa has a lot of mineral resources, but a lot of poor people," Krua said, adding that in many areas the situation is dire. "There are 6,000 people, one hospital and only four medical doctors."

Swan will spend both Christmas and Kwanza in Liberia and assess the post-conflict needs of the country and host talks with ordinary Liberians engaged in self-help development initiatives.

For more information on intiatives and how you can help, visit