Somali Batula next to her seedlings in the greenhouse. © Michele Stapleton | UNHCR USA - Photo: 2023

African Migrants Finding Sanctuary in US Maine

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK, 15 May 2023 (IDN) — An African migrant crisis in southern Maine, the easternmost state in the New England region of the Northeastern United States?

Newly arrived asylum seekers have been overwhelming several Maine cities, straining municipal budgets to the breaking point. Surprising to some, many of the migrants are from Africa, notes Luc Kuanzambi, a Congolese refugee.

Kuanzambi is the founder of Xenos Communications Consulting and a former aide to foreign governments in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. With specific knowledge of Angolan and Congolese history, he’s been explaining to local Mainers the historical, political and economic roots of the state’s refugee crisis.

It’s a crisis driven by European colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and more recently various regime change operations in the DRC and elsewhere that fueled political discord and empowered brutal political leaders, he says.

“I will say, there are humane policies here,” said Kuanzambi. “Some of my American friends have called them lenient policies.”

Last year—with some 400 migrant families in hotels—it was reported that the Greater Portland Council of Governments would be raising $1.5 million to build 200 transitional units for migrant families over the next two years.

“People are connected, because of the service that they’ve received here, because of their families. Some have family roots here, some have just people that they know, speak their language, and their culture,” added Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition.

More so than most states, Maine provides welfare benefits to asylum seekers who arrive in the state, including General Assistance through municipal governments, state-run welfare programs, housing benefits, and education.

And the legislature is currently considering a proposal that would allow asylum seekers, refugees, and even illegal immigrants to receive free and low-cost healthcare.

Maine is home to a community of Somali Bantus who are practicing sustainable farming at the 30-acre New Roots Cooperative using traditional methods from Somalia.

Meanwhile, at the southern border, over three thousand citizens of Senegal, Angola, Congo, Ghana and neighboring countries requested humanitarian visas in Mexico during the first six months of 2022, compared to 1,901 requests in all of 2021, said Andres Ramirez, director of Mexico’s Refugee Commission, or COMAR.

Wilner Metelus, president of the Citizen Committee in Defense of Naturalized and Afro-Mexicans, said an international commission is necessary to oversee what is happening at the southern Mexican border, which he described as a living “hell” for African and Haitian migrants.

In addition to those lawfully seeking refuge, the Mexican immigration enforcement agency has detained 1,436 African migrants who were either coming with smugglers or trying to avoid detection. Of those, 348 were minors or family units and routed to the Children’s and Families Development agency.

A video of Kuanzami’s presentation can be seen on YouTube at “From Africa to Maine: The History of the DRC and Angola.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Somali Batula next to her seedlings in the greenhouse. © Michele Stapleton | UNHCR USA

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