PORTLAND – Luc Mpangaje can write lyrics and sing songs about whatever topic he wants to address in Portland, but in his homeland — the East African nation of Burundi — he was persecuted by the government for expressing his views.

After the singer-songwriter’s record about greed was banned, he was eventually threatened with death, which led him to flee his country last year. He has been living in Portland since December.

The 31-year-old Mpangaje is in the process of seeking political asylum, a status he says would allow him to bring his wife and two children, ages 5 and 2, to Maine.

“My daughter keeps saying, ‘Daddy, I miss you so much. When are you coming home?’” Mpangaje said. “That is hard for me in my heart, living away from my family. It’s another form of torture.”

Mpangaje performed Sunday night with the Boston-based band The Adam Ezra Group at the First Parish Meeting House in Portland. “Chefs and Musicians for Safe Harbor” featured performances by Adam Ezra and Maine songwriters.

The event was held to raise money for the First Parish church’s legal fund. The fund will help pay for the legal expenses of people like Mpangaje who are seeking political asylum.

Organizers say the funds are needed because the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, a Portland-based nonprofit organization, stopped accepting asylum cases in March after it could no longer handle the workload. The organization saw demand for asylum assistance increase by 400 percent from 2009 to 2010.

An attorney, who often does the work pro bono, can spend 100 hours preparing a case to present to an immigration official. The Immigration Legal Advocacy Project is training more attorneys, but it is unclear when it might start accepting clients again.

That is why the fundraiser was held Sunday night. The church says it knows of at least three asylum-seekers who could use some type of immediate legal assistance. If those individuals achieve asylum, they’ll be expected to repay the church for their costs once they have a job.

Unlike refugees, who often flee their homeland with family members, those seeking political asylum come to this country alone. They fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a social group.

“I left Burundi because of my music,” Mpangaje said. “I told the truth. They (the government) kill anyone they want.”

“These are people suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome,” said Rev. Christina Sillari, First Parish’s minister. “They are typically well-educated persons who were speaking out against oppression. They came to this country alone and they can never go back.”

Sillari said the funds raised Sunday night will go toward covering the costs of retaining an attorney to help represent people like Mpangaje and Claudette Ndayininahaze through what can be a long and complicated legal process.

Mpangaje has been waiting since July to hear if he will be granted asylum. Ndayininahaze, 45, hopes to hear by the end of the year.

A mother of three, Ndayininahaze was working as a sales manager for a beverage distributor in Burundi. But she also was volunteering and speaking out for an organization that was advocating for humane treatment of prisoners. After being arrested by the government, she fled out of concern for her safety.

Her children joined her in Portland in July, but her husband remains in Burundi. She likes the city of Portland.

“I’m in a good community. I have my niche here,” she said. “We need to have hope. I hope that one day we have peace in Africa, especially Burundi.”

Sunday’s event was organized by Lars Whelan and Kitty Coughlin, members of First Parish Meeting House.

Coughlin said Sunday’s event raised $3,900 for the legal fund.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]