Approximately 75 people attended a cultural training presented by Greater Portland Family Promise at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick on July 26. The training was organized to meet the needs of those considering becoming involved in the work of welcoming asylum seekers to Brunswick. Sara Ewing-Merrill, Executive Director of Greater Portland Family Promise, and Courtney Tabor, Associate Director, shared basic information about the legal process of seeking asylum, as well as available resources, how to offer culturally-appropriate hospitality, and barriers faced by asylum seekers. They also shared the great satisfaction they have experienced personally in working with asylum seekers through Greater Portland Family Promise.
Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, assured those gathered that the immigrant leaders in Portland will support local Brunswick residents over the long haul as families move into Brunswick.
“We are all in this together,” she said. “You are the first town out of Portland to welcome people from the Expo. What we are creating together in Brunswick is a blueprint so we can replicate this in other towns in Maine. The asylum seekers want to move out of the Expo, and they are ready to move out of Portland. They just want to know where they are going, and how they will get to their appointments at ILAP, immigration court, and so on.”
Nsiona Nguizani, President of the Angolan Association of Maine, spoke about the importance of helping to reduce the anxiety the asylum seekers feel as the deadline to dismantle the temporary shelter at the Expo looms. He said that immigrant leaders have built relationships of trust with the asylum seekers, so including them in direct discussions about moving helps to dissipate anxiety.
A number of people in attendance asked for information about how many families are moving to Brunswick and who is in charge of monitoring the situation. According to the Times Record, at least 18 asylum seekers are already in residence in Brunswick, and ten more families may be arriving soon. A task force that includes school board members and town councilors has formed. English classes will begin at the Curtis Memorial Library August 12. The town is planning to hire a cultural broker to help the local community and their new neighbors get to know and understand each other.