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Afghan Asylum Seekers Could Arrive Soon, And Mainers Are Racing To Setup Support Systems

A black wooden sign reads "Catholic Charities, providing help and creating hope in Maine"
Ari Snider
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Catholic Charities will lead the resettlement of up to 100 Afghan evacuees under a State Department program.

Evacuees from Afghanistan could begin arriving in Maine as soon as this week, and groups across the state are racing to assemble support services.

Up to 100 Afghans will be resettled in Maine under a State Department program aimed at evacuating people whose work put them at risk under Taliban rule.

The Portland Press Herald first reported that people could begin arriving as soon as Oct. 1.

But they will not yet be classified as refugees – making them ineligible for many federal support services.

Nasir Shir, a leader in Maine’s Afghan community, said there has been no shortage of groups and even individuals offering assistance. The challenge, Shir said, is that there are so many offers from different organizations – creating a confusing landscape for new arrivals to navigate.

"The unfortunate part is that there’s no single-stop shop,” he said. “There’s no one-stop place, or one organization, ‘I'm here, help me with my driver’s ed. I’m here, help me register my kid for school.’”

To address this issue, Shir said he’s been working with The Opportunity Alliance to make a checklist of services that will serve as a sort of phonebook for families to find the assistance they need.

One of the groups that may well end up on that list is the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, which will offer its free online English language learning software to new Afghan arrivals.

“We try to make it as easy and low-barrier as possible,” said Welcome Center director Reza Jalali. “If they don't have any devices we would loan them a tablet, [or] a laptop.”

Jalali said because the software can be accessed remotely, it will be available to anyone, regardless of where they are resettled.

Catholic Charities Maine will lead the resettlement process, which will run through March of next year.