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Portland celebrates World Refugee Day with multinational performances

A man wearing a multicolor shirt stands while playing a drum.
Ari Snider
Guinean drummer Namory Keita leads his drumming class during the World Refugee Day celebration in Portland.

Crowds gathered in Portland and Lewiston on Monday to celebrate World Refugee Day, at a moment when the United Nations counts over 27 million refugees worldwide.

In Portland more than a hundred people mingled in Congress Square Park, listening to music performances, speeches, and readings.

Among those present was Mateeullah Haidari, a former police officer from Afghanistan.

When the Taliban took over last year, Haidari, his wife, and two young daughters were airlifted out of the country by the US military.

Haidari said he is happy to have found safety in the US – and says he’s thankful for events like this where he can make new connections.

"When I came here I met a lot of people here. New people, new friends," he said. "This program is very good."

Three men stand in a park.
Ari Snider
Mohammad Majidi, from left, Hassan Merzaiy, and Mateeullah Haidari in Portland's Congress Square Park. The three men are from Afghanistan, and had to flee when the Taliban took power last year. Haidari, a former police officer, says he's happy for events like this one that allow him to meet new people.

Here in Maine, Haidari said he faces a new challenge: housing. He and his family have been living in emergency housing in motels for the last eight months, still searching for a more permanent place to settle down.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree also spoke in Portland, calling the Biden Administration’s plan to admit 125,000 refugees this year is a good first step – but urged the administration to do more.

"There are wars going on all around the world, there is drought, there’s the impact of climate change, we need to be opening our doors and welcoming more people," Pingree said.

Pingree added that Maine in particular stands to benefit from increased immigration, as the state struggles with a worker shortage and has one of the oldest populations in the country.

A woman wearing black jeans and a blue shirt with green sweater speaks into a microphone on an outdoor stage.
Ari Snider
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree speaks at Portland's World Refugee Day Celebration. Pingree called the Biden Administration's plan to admit 125,000 refugees this year a good first step, but said the US should do more to take in people fleeing war and natural catastrophes.
Three men talk outside at Portland's Congress Square Park.
Ari Snider
Tarlan Ahmadov, state refugee coordinator for Catholic Charities Maine, center, speaks with Mateeullah Haidari, left, and Sami Shahed, vice president of Maine's Afghan community association. Haidari, a former police officer, was airlifted out of Kabul with his family by the US military last year after the Taliban took power.
A woman wearing sunglasses and a multicolored dress and scarf sits next to a young man wearing sunglasses and a grey sweatshirt.
Ari Snider
South Portland mayor Deqa Dhalac, left, with Mohamed Khalid in Portland's Congress Square Park. Dhalac is the first Somali-American mayor in the country.
A girl wearing black pants and a black sweater reads into a microphone at an outdoor stage.
Ari Snider
Mayinga Mukinayi reads a story she wrote titled "No Water, No Food: Thirteen Days in the Jungle", documenting her family's journey from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United States. Part of that journey took them on foot through a perilous section of tropical forest in Colombia and Panama.
A man wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and sunglasses raps into a microphone on an outdoor stage.
Ari Snider
Assasi, a Biddeford-based rapper originally from Syria, performs onstage in Portland. Assasi's music wrestles with themes of displacement, identity, and cultural isolation.
A girl wearing jeans and black sweater sings into a microphone while other girls look on.
Ari Snider
Kaylee Kazadi, with the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus, sings at Portland's World Refugee Day celebration.
A man wearing a light blue jacket stands with his arm around a man wearing a white t-shirt and sunglasses.
Ari Snider
Reza Jalali, left, executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, stands with Assasi, a Biddeford-based rapper originally from Syria. GPIWC organized the Portland World Refugee Day celebration.
A crowd of people in a park in downtown Portland
Ari Snider
Over 100 people turned out to celebrate World Refugee Day in Portland's Congress Square Park.