BATH – Four families with children have arrived in Bath seeking asylum from their home countries in Africa, according to Martha Stein, executive director of Hope Acts, and Carol Kalajainen, co-founder of the Midcoast New Mainers Support Group.

“These families are free to come and go,” Stein said Tuesday night at a forum at Patten Free Library. “There’s no master list.”

Nearly 450 asylum seekers – mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – stayed at the Portland Expo after arriving in mid-June after fleeing their home countries. Kalajainen said the asylum seekers chose Maine because they knew there are established Angolan and Congolese communities and readily available social services.

From there, asylum seekers have been dispersed throughout southern Maine. About 60 asylum seekers have settled in Brunswick, where temporary free housing was established at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

While Stein and Kalajainen would not say exactly where asylum seekers in Bath are being housed, they said some are living in host homes while others have already found permanent housing. No additional host homes are needed at this time, and they hope to have all Bath asylum seekers in permanent homes by the end of October, according to Stein.

Bath is an attractive community to asylum seekers because it has health care centers, access to public transportation and established public services such as the Bath Area Food Bank, according to the New Mainers group.

“Because they’re young, they have a lot to offer Maine,” said Kalajainen. “They had successful lives in their home country, many of them were educated, and they’re eager to work and contribute to our communities.”

The asylum seekers’ immediate needs are language translators who can speak French, Portuguese and Lingala; transportation, and access to attorneys to help them file for asylum, according to Stein.

Asylum seekers of all ages are also eager to learn English, according to Don Lader, executive director of Midcoast Literacy, which provides English language courses to immigrants.

“These people are extremely motivated, and if they were your kids, you’d be proud of them,” said Lader.

“Asylum seekers did not flee their home countries and come to the U.S. to be a burden,” added Kalajainen. “They came to have a safe place to raise their children, learn English, to work, to become taxpayers and to help other people.”

Despite being eager to work, under U.S. immigration laws, asylum seekers are not allowed to find employment for six months after filing their applications.

“What we’re seeing with people who come across the border (from Mexico) is this crazy system where people are given a notice, but ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) does not file it with the federal court, so they can’t file for asylum,” said Mirim Johnson, an attorney and Bath resident who has been working asylum cases for six years.

Stein and Kalajainen recommended that those seeking to help the asylum seekers contact Midcoast New Mainers Support Group at mcnmg.org to see what services or donations are needed.

Stein asked attendees not to arrive at asylum seekers’ doorsteps with donations.

“It’s really overwhelming for them,” Stein said. “Please respect their privacy.”

On Thursday, Midcoast Literacy will hold meetings for people interested in becoming English language tutors for asylum seeks, both children and adults. The meetings are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. at 34 Wing Farm Parkway in Bath.

On Oct. 30 a second informational meeting will take place that will include a panel of asylum seekers.

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