Camden Herald letters to the editor Jan. 14

Jan 14, 2021

Aiding asylum seekers in Maine

Eighty-five families of asylum seekers from the tropical-climate countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have arrived in southern Maine since the pandemic began, and these families are now coping with their first Maine winter. Of the 296 individuals in the families, 162 are children.

The families came to America because of civil turmoil and violence in their home countries. They traveled to Maine because of our state's reputation for hospitality and caring, and to join Maine’s growing community of recent immigrants. By federal law, asylum seekers are not permitted to work until one year after filing an official asylum application.

The restriction on work means all of needs of the recent arrivals must be met by voluntary community efforts, such as food pantries, soup kitchens and municipal General Assistance, which provides aid in voucher form.

Because of great need on the part of so many during the pandemic, asylum seekers are moving into housing without basic household items like bedding, pots and pans, that many of us take for granted. They also do not have ready access to the nutritious foods they are familiar with from Angola or the DRC, such as cassava, plantains and dried fish.

The New Mainers Coastal Task Force, formed by residents of Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston and other nearby communities, is teaming up with the Maine Immigrants' Rights Coalition (MIRC) to raise funds for asylum seekers to ease their transition to apartment life.

MIRC’s Executive Director Mufalo Chitam has suggested that gift cards from Hannaford Supermarkets or Renys department stores would help relieve distress among asylum seekers. Most reside within walking distance of these stores, and the Hannaford store in Portland sells food the recent arrivals yearn for. MIRC is the convener of an organization of 70 nonprofits and community groups working on behalf of immigrant communities across Maine.

The New Mainers Coastal Task Force is a recent iteration of a group formed in 2016 to support a family of 15 DRC refugees who were resettled in Thomaston. That family is now fully independent, working, paying taxes and fluent in English. The New Mainers Coastal Task Force is committed to working to help other New Mainer families.

Camden and Thomaston libraries agreed to be drop-off points for the gift cards. Bring them before Friday, Feb. 26, to these locations. Or mail checks or gift cards to NMCTF, c/o Squibbs, 24 Central St., Camden ME 04843. Checks should be made out to St. John’s Church with “New Mainers” on the memo line. Thomaston's St. John's Church serves as the treasurer for NMCTF.

For more info about this effort or the New Mainers Coastal Task Force, contact Brenda Squibb at bjsquibb@gmail.com.

Stu Kantor

Camden

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