Immigrants want peace soon in Liberia

Missouri residents recall move from their war-torn homeland to the U.S.
Sunday, September 14, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:48 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Annie Brewer said that before she left Liberia, government soldiers shot and killed her husband and brother. Her 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son were kidnapped and beaten by a faction called the Liberian Peace Council and forced to walk from town to town. It was a year before Brewer saw her children again.

Now Brewer lives in Fulton. Before arriving in the United States, she lived in Guinea, one of Liberia’s neighboring countries, for six years. She was there when she heard where her son and younger daughter had ended up, and they were able to join her. The family moved to Missouri about three years ago through Church World Service, a development, relief and refugee assistance ministry.

The U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services says 2,879 Liberian immigrants came to the United States in 2002, the year for which most recent statistics are available. Brewer is one of a handful of Liberians — nobody is keeping count — who live in central Missouri.

The war in Liberia began in 1989, when Charles Taylor and his forces invaded from the Ivory Coast. Taylor was elected as Liberia’s president in 1997. Since 1999, two main groups — the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia — have fought Taylor’s government. Recently Taylor resigned and went into exile, and the two groups and the Liberian government signed a peace treaty.

Brewer, who is from Harper in southern Liberia, said that sending more peacekeepers and deploying them through the whole country, not just the capital of Monrovia, would help keep the peace.

She said that she has not heard from all of her family and friends, who are scattered throughout Liberia, and that she worries about her loved ones.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, renewed fighting north of Monrovia is causing further displacement of thousands of people.

Brewer prays for war to stop in Liberia. She hopes that, this time, the peacekeepers’ presence will make a difference.

“God has the final say,” Brewer said. “I’m very thankful for the American people that have been speaking up for us this time.”

Another Liberian immigrant, Kemoh Edwards, lives in Jefferson City.

“Liberian people don’t want a war,” he said, adding that in order to have lasting peace, the international community needs to continue to put pressure on Liberia.

Edwards moved to Missouri about three years ago. Originally from Monrovia, he came by way of Ghana and New York. He works as an officer at the Department of Corrections and is a student at Lincoln University, where he studies criminal justice.

“People believe we are all militant, and that’s wrong,” Edwards said of Liberians. He said he had never shot a gun before training for his job here in Missouri.

“I’m glad it’s cooled down,” he said of the political climate in his homeland. “But in order to get it over with, we need to get everyone with a gun out of there.”

Edwards said he hopes to go back to Liberia someday, perhaps to go into business.

Brewer would also like to return to Liberia, at least to visit.

“There’s nowhere like home,” she said.

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