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State Summit Focuses On African Immigrants

October 27, 2008

St. Cloud, MN – A statewide conference on the opportunities and challenges facing the estimated 20,000 African immigrants living in rural Minnesota is being held today in St. Cloud. The goal is give community representatives opportunities to share notes on their responses to the challenges facing the new residents.

Spokesman Ben Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy says this first-ever "Rural African Summit" is an effort to focus on the situations of the thousands of Africans living in communities outside of Minnesota's urban areas. He says they settle in those places because that's where the jobs are.

"A lot of these communities are located near meat and poultry packing plants. Often, they are very isolated. And these people are dealing with a new culture, a new language and colder weather."

Lilliston says the meeting offers participants chances to discuss legal and economic issues, housing, human rights, health and other matters.

Most of Minnesota's 80,000 African immigrants live in urban areas. Those who settle in rural areas face a unique set of circumstances, he explains.

"When you get out-state, you become more separated, more isolated and have more challenges to try to overcome than in the city, where there's more of an established community and they've already plugged into the system."

Lilliston says Minnesota is a popular destination for African immigrants, for several reasons.

"One reason is because there's already an existing community. Two, we have sort of a tradition with a lot of the faith communities of helping immigrants from other countries come to the United States and get accustomed to living here."

Another attraction, he says, is the state's strong social service network. State officials say many of the immigrants are from war-torn countries, and some are refugees.

Summit sponsors include Lutheran Social Services, the African Chamber of Commerce and the . More information is available at www.iatp.org.

Jim Wishner/Steve Powers, Public News Service - MN