AUGUSTA — A group of area religious leaders visited an Iraqi-run shop Wednesday to show support for the fledgling immigrant population in the city.

Members of the Capital Area Multifaith Association went to Mainly Groceries, which opened last year on Northern Avenue. That area was shaped by French Canadian immigrants who started pouring into Augusta for mill jobs in the 1880s. In recent years, Iraqis have been coming to Augusta, largely from other places in Maine and the country.

The Wednesday visit was prompted by an earlier trip to the store by the Rev. Francis Morin, administrator of St. Michael Catholic Parish. He noticed that the store’s front window had been smashed in, which happened in November.

“We were talking, and we thought it would be a good idea if we all just welcomed them and sent a message that we don’t agree with the opponents of new people coming into the country, no matter how they’re coming in,” he said.

The Persian Gulf War of 1991 produced 3 million refugees, according to the Migration Policy Institute, with most coming from Iraq and Kuwait and escaping the regime of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator who was executed in 2006. His forces violently put down a postwar uprising that possibly killed more than 200,000 people. Others were displaced during the American war with Iraq in the 2000s, and the country still is wracked by conflict with the Islamic State, a radical group that controls wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and has killed thousands.

Sosa Sosa, a Shiite who was working at the store Wednesday, is an Iraq native who has been in the U.S. since 1995, when, he said, he was “running away” from Hussein’s government. His cousin Youssof Zamat owns the store and Youssof’s father, Khalid, is a prominent figure in Augusta’s Iraqi community.

An exact number of recent Iraqi immigrants in the city is hard to pin down, but Sara Russell, Augusta’s General Assistance manager, said 21 households with Iraqi members have applied for aid since February 2014, and city schools have seen an influx of students in their English-as-a-second-language programs. In November 2013, Augusta officials said they had seen a recent influx of 10 to 15 families.

Sosa said Augusta has been a good place to live in many ways, but family members have had things thrown at them and have been told to “go home” as they walk down streets. Sosa said it didn’t happen as much in Biddeford, where he lived before coming to Augusta a year ago.

“This is my country, too,” he said. “I came here not to make any problems. I came here to survive.”

Marjorie Dearborn, of Mount Vernon, a Christian Scientist and association member who was in the store Wednesday, has a personal connection to immigration. Thomas, the son she and her husband adopted from Korea, became a Navy captain.

“We’re all ‘new’ people if we get right down to the basics,” she said.

Sosa said living in Augusta has been difficult at times, but the leaders’ visit was a sign that things “are going to be good.”

“Thank God we have nice people come in and talk to us,” he said. “God bless them.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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