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Camden Conference Confronts Immigration Issues, as Trump's New Order Looms

Susan Sharon
Maine Public
U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements, a Maine native, speaks to a student at USM.

CAMDEN, Maine - Immigration will be a hot topic again this week as President Donald Trump prepares to issue his new executive order this week.

That topic was under discussion this weekend at the annual Camden Conference - held in the coastal Maine town that bears the event's name - where the theme was refugees and migration.

Maine native Kelly Clements, now United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, was one of the speakers.

Clements praised Portland for being so welcoming to refugees from all over the world:

"The personal touch is very important, the community engagement hugely important," Clements said. "And, of course, there's a whole lot of reasons that the international engagement really matters."

Clements said welcoming refugees not only creates a stronger, more diverse community, it is important for national security reasons.  

Clements was appointed to her current position in 2015. She previously served as United States deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public
Maine Public
Zahra Abukar, of Portland.

Clements also met with students at the University of Southern Maine on Friday where she discussed the humanitarian crisis posed by 65 million people who've been uprooted from their homes.  Of that number, Clements said, half are children.

Some are internally displaced in their own countries, she said, while others are fleeing for a variety of reasons: war, ethnic and religious conflicts, crime and the effects of climate change. Clements said only about 1 percent of those refugees are resettled in a third country.

Portland High School student Zahra Abukar, a Somali refugee who lived in Turkey for seven years before coming to Maine two years ago, said she was worried at first about the election of Donald Trump as president, and about his recent travel ban from certain Muslim majority countries.  But Abukar says students, teachers and the Portland community have been so supportive she has let go of that initial fear.