(GIN) – An African migrant crisis in southern Maine?
Newly arrived asylum seekers have been overwhelming several Maine cities, straining municipal budgets to the breaking point. Surprisingly to some, many of the migrants are from Africa, according to 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 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and elsewhere that fueled political discord and empowered brutal political leaders, he says.
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“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 raise $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 [who] 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. The legislature is also 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, more than 3,000 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 (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.
The Mexican immigration enforcement agency has detained 1,436 African migrants who were either coming with smugglers or trying to avoid detection, in addition to those lawfully seeking refuge. Of those, 348 were minors or family units and were 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.”