Maine finds homes for several hundred African asylum seekers | TribLIVE.com
U.S./World

Maine finds homes for several hundred African asylum seekers

Associated Press
1549623_web1_1549623-0f3c4f4035f0449992f9203eda09b1dc
Thierry Malasa pauses while describing the harrowing journey that led his family from the Congo to Maine, as the family prepared to move out of the Portland Expo, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Portland, Maine. The state’s largest city is racing to find homes for dozens of African asylum seekers as a temporary shelter closes on Thursday. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
1549623_web1_1549623-d9565af2f96e468080108055f1810461
A young boy gets a ride on a luggage cart as Steve Miller helps move the belongings of African asylum seekers at the Portland Expo, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Portland, Maine. The state’s largest city is racing to find homes for dozens of African asylum seekers as a temporary shelter closes on Thursday. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
1549623_web1_1549623-17708d42dc7e471c82fd18d89cc3b52e
Youngsters wait on a luggage cart as the belongings of African asylum seekers are packed onto moving trucks at the Portland Expo, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Portland, Maine. The state’s largest city is racing to find homes for dozens of African asylum seekers as a temporary shelter closes on Thursday. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine — Most African asylum seekers who made the perilous journey through Central America to the southern U.S. border and flooded shelters in Maine’s largest city have new homes.

Thursday marked the closing of an emergency shelter set up in a basketball arena in Portland after several hundred African immigrants arrived from Texas. All told, the city has found homes for more than 200 people since the first families arrived in June.

The arrival of families fleeing Angola, Congo and other countries showed that it’s not just Central Americans making the journey to the southern U.S. border. An unprecedented number of Africans traveled the same route.

Maine is home to thousands of African newcomers but the arrival of so many at the same time overwhelmed local shelters in June.

At its peak capacity over the summer, the Portland Expo held nearly 300 asylum seekers sleeping on cots on the basketball court. But a coalition of groups has steered most of the new arrivals to homes, and on Thursday, the last few dozen packed up their belongings.

Because of a housing shortage in southern Maine, many were sent to communities miles away from the shelter in Brunswick, Bath and Lewiston. More than 40 families also opened their homes to provide temporary housing to the newcomers. Since the newcomers are not allowed to work for 180 days while seeking asylum, the state’s recently opened General Assistance program will provide most of them with vouchers for housing, food and medicine.

Several parents moving their families said their children are still traumatized by the difficult journey to Maine.

“By the grace of God, my family made it here. But the kids still have that stuff in their brains,” Lidia Maria Afonso, of Luanda, Angola, said Thursday through an interpreter as she and her three children awaited a ride to their new home 25 miles (40 kilometers) north, in Brunswick.

Some families expressed fear about being relocated from the busy city to towns where the vast woods that are part of Maine’s identity could trigger bad memories from their journeys. They recalled seeing fellow asylum seekers fall to their deaths, get swept away by rivers, starve to death and get bitten by venomous snakes in Panama’s infamous Darien Gap, a jungle that’s known for dangerous wildlife and bandits.

“We are really thankful and appreciative. Really, God bless you. But we also want you to understand what it was like in the forest. There were people who went with us who died. We don’t want to go again to a spot like that. It’s just too difficult,” Thierry Malasa, who fled Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, said through an interpreter as his family prepared to move to a wooded home in Scarborough.

Nsine Bodiko, who fled a massacre in his village in Congo, showed images on his phone of thick forests and boulders from his journey through Central America that looked a lot like Maine’s wooded wilderness.

“Our heads are in such shock,” said Bodiko, whose wife gave birth on the journey, through an interpreter.

As the asylum seekers attempt to settle into new lives and homes, part of the struggle is putting the horrors they have endured behind them.

We hope “to be able to forget the traumas from the forest,” Bodiko said.

Categories: News | World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.