Liberian minister to discuss refugee crisis at the Garde

New London — A Boston minister who's a Liberian refugee will discuss the worldwide refugee crisis and steps to alleviate it during a free workshop at the Garde Arts Center on Thursday evening. 

A record 68.5 million people had been forced from their homes by the end of 2017, the United Nations refugee agency said. About 25.4 million of them were refugees.

The crisis has destabilized governments in Europe, the Rev. Torli Krua said, and led about 3,000 people to die by drowning in the Mediterranean Sea annually.

“A lot of ordinary people ... they feel there’s nothing they can do in this big, international refugee crisis to help solve the issue,” said Krua, co-director of the Greater Boston Refugee Ministry.

But Krua, speaking from experience, said that’s not true.

Krua said he first came to the United States in 1982, when he was working for a Massachusetts computer company. He then started a company in Liberia whose clients included the U.S. government. He flew to and from Boston frequently, he said.

In 1990, during the early stages of the First Liberian Civil War, Krua awoke in Liberia to a group of armed men banging on his door about 4 a.m. They mistakenly believed he was part of a Boston-grown group trying to overthrow the Liberian government, Krua said, and had come to execute him.

“I got out of that mess that morning only because I had an identification card with me that said I worked for the U.S. State Department,” he said.

Krua made it to a regional embassy and eventually to the United States — but not because he wanted to.

“My company was working well in my country,” Krua said. “I used to go to Hawaii for vacation because I could afford that."

“Then one day, I lost everything,” he said.

During his 6:30 p.m. talk Thursday, which the Huntington Street Baptist Church is sponsoring, Krua will address how lonely he had felt, and other refugees feel, upon arrival. Many leave their livelihoods and families behind, he said.

“Every human being can address that problem” by talking to a refugee, he said.

Krua also will speak about how groups addressing the refugee crisis often don't include refugees in their decision-making talks. Because he’s a Christian, he used Christian nonprofit World Relief as an example.

Its website says it has helped 32,000 immigrants and refugees across the country this year but Krua said its board and senior management positions rarely if ever are filled by refugees.

“I think the solution has to be brought by the refugees,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s like a doctor deciding, 'I’m not going to talk to the patient because I have a degree and I know what’s best for them.'”

Krua said U.S. taxpayers wanting to quell the crisis also can protest when U.S. foreign aid goes to corrupt governments.

Krua said he chose ministry because he thought he was going to die when the armed men came to his house in Liberia. Newspapers routinely published frightening photos at the time, he said, along with headlines such as, “Three headless bodies found.”

About 250,000 people died in the first civil war, which lasted from 1989 through 1996.

“When I had the chance and was able to leave to come here, I felt there had to be a purpose for me greater than what I was doing before,” Krua said. “I couldn’t come here to run a business for profit. I thought I needed to be in a place where I can help others, and the best avenue is through the church.”

Krua’s talk comes three days after the Trump administration said the country would accept 30,000 refugees next year, which is 15,000 less than this year and the lowest since the program’s 1980 creation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the cap was lowered for refugees because 800,000 asylum seekers are awaiting decisions in their cases and the priority should be given to them, the New York Times reported.

Both refugees and asylees must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries but those who gain refugee status aren't yet in the United States while those who seek asylum are.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said 319,563 asylum cases were pending as of the end of June.

l.boyle@theday.com

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