Afghan evacuees begin to arrive in Maine
(Tribune News Service) — Maine's refugee resettlement agency has begun to receive Afghans who were evacuated as U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August.
Catholic Charities Maine welcomed one evacuee who arrived Thursday at Portland International Jetport from one of eight military bases in the United States where evacuees are awaiting resettlement.
"We anticipate 11 more arrivals within the next week," said Hannah DeAngelis, director of refugee and immigration services at the faith-based agency.
Among the 12 individuals are four families, all of whom have relatives living in Cumberland County, DeAngelis said. Three of the families will be living temporarily with relatives; one family is large enough to need temporary housing elsewhere, which has been secured, she said.
The anticipated arrivals include school-age children who will be enrolled in local public schools within the next three months.
"One of our responsibilities is assisting in the enrollment process within the resettlement period," DeAngelis said.
Catholic Charities Maine is leading the resettlement effort as the state's designated administrator of the new Afghan Placement and Assistance Program, which was created by the federal government in the wake of the U.S. military's withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Through that program, Catholic Charities has been approved to resettle 67 to 100 Afghans in Maine who technically lack refugee status but are considered immigration parolees, said Hannah DeAngelis, director of refugee and immigration services at the faith-based agency.
They are among 57,000 immigration parolees who made it out of Afghanistan and have been on the military bases awaiting resettlement. They will arrive with limited funding from the federal government that is meant to last 90 days, DeAngelis said.
Nearly 130,000 people were airlifted from Afghanistan in the final days of the evacuation, including about 70,000 who have "special immigrant visas" because they worked with U.S. forces. Some of them are also waiting on military bases and destined for Maine, and some Afghan Mainers are working to bring family members here as humanitarian parolees.
The Afghans who will be in Catholic Charities' care could arrive in Maine anytime through March 30, 2022, DeAngelis said. It's the largest number of newcomers that the agency has resettled since it welcomed 323 refugees in the fiscal year that ended in September 2018.
Afghans currently waiting on military bases are being processed through immigration programs, undergoing medical screenings and vaccinations and receiving other temporary assistance, according to U.S. State Department officials.
Gov. Janet Mills' office announced in August that Maine was prepared to welcome Afghans fleeing their homeland, but it was more a statement of willingness than an assessment of the state's readiness.
Greater Portland, Lewiston, Biddeford and Augusta are among the communities that are preparing to welcome Afghan families because they already have social services, schools with multilingual programs, job training, public transportation and other services in place to assist immigrants. Maine is home to about 500 Afghan Americans, clustered mostly around Portland.
Each person arriving through the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program will be given $900 to cover housing, food and other basic needs for 90 days. A network of social service agencies, Afghan community members and volunteers has rallied to help the new arrivals get settled, apply for asylum, find work and learn about their new home.
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