PORTLAND — Over the past year, more than 500 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland seeking refuge from persecution and violence in their home countries. Their journeys were perilous, and most crossed into the U.S. across the southern border. Many then spent time in detention before journeying on to Maine.

Worldwide, there are over 40 million asylum seekers — people driven from their homes seeking international protection. Some of those who eventually made their way to Maine, against all odds, had contacts here, but most did not. They came because they heard that Maine is a welcoming state.

Because of the pandemic, the city of Portland housed new arrivals in budget motels and hotels while they scrambled to find affordable housing. Unfortunately, the affordable housing stock has shrunk drastically, and hundreds of new arrivals are still housed in motels in Portland, South Portland, Old Orchard Beach, and other towns in southern Maine. As winter approaches, concern about the well-being of the new arrivals has risen.

The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, an umbrella organization of almost 90 organizations that are led by — or allied to — immigrants and their communities in Maine, has launched an Adopt an Immigrant Family for the Holidays initiative. The initiative will also help recent Afghan arrivals. The local CAC/Connecting Across Cultures group will be participating.

MIRC Executive Director Mufalo Chitam held an informational meeting about the Adopt an Immigrant Family program Nov. 22. She explained options to be matched with recent arrivals from Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Haiti, Burkina Faso amongst others. Both children and adults are in dire need of warm winter clothing, which can be new or gently used, as well as warm blankets, winter footwear, gift cards, phones, and language learning opportunities.

The motel arrangement is very isolating for people who have traveled great distances and suffered many losses. Also, most of the motels offer no cooking facilities, and the environment does not lend itself readily to providing social services. Current laws do not permit asylum seekers to work.

Many Mainers residing in southern Maine are working to assist with the immediate needs of housing, hot meal delivery, transportation, medical care, school enrollment, vaccination education, and COVID precautions. MIRC continues to prioritize the health and safety of both the immigrant population and those supporting them. Participation in the Adopt a Family program will not only directly assist newly arrived immigrants but also provide immediate support to fellow Mainers who have been doing this important frontline work for quite some time now.

For more information about the Adopt an Immigrant Family for the Holidays program, contact MIRC’s Fatima Saidi at fsaidi@maineimmigrantrights.org.

For more information about Connecting Across Cultures, email cacmidcoast@gmail.com.