PORTLAND, Maine — Afghans and other immigrant refugees arriving in Maine will soon have more options for help getting on their feet.
The Department of State has approved HIAS, an international refugee resettlement program, to mobilize a second Portland-based organization to help acclimate immigrant refugees to their new lives in and around Maine.
Portland’s Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine was selected by HIAS as one of seven new resettlement services centers in its network.
Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services was the first to offer resettlement services.
Molly Curren Rowles, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, said the organization plans to work closely with Catholic Charities to offer services, like meeting refugees at the airport, finding and helping them move into housing, and ensuring they have what they need for up to three months after their arrival.
Rowles called the program “an important expansion of the JCA’s work,” citing the organization’s history helping resettle Russian refugees in the 1990s and helping new arrivals through food and diaper pantries.
Tarlan Ahmadov, the refugee coordinator with Catholic Charities, was very happy to have another organization to collaborate with on resettlement work.
“There are so many refugees in need and so little resources to go around. I think it’s wonderful to have this new partner in our state helping this critical process,” Ahmadov said.
The State Department under President Joe Biden is helping relocate displaced refugees from Afghanistan, where the U.S. pulled military forces this summer after a nearly 20-year conflict, while expanding resettlement programs for refugees fleeing other areas.
Adding a second organization to Maine’s refugee relocation services will help implement the new Afghan Placement and Assistance program, a federal resettlement program. The program is a prong of Biden’s Operation Allies Welcome designed to screen Afghans expatriates and resettle them in the U.S. using federal and donation funding.
Afghans resettled under that program are considered humanitarian parolees, a different immigration status than refugees. The services are meant to look identical to refugee resettlement programs, but the separate status operates on a different timeline and with a separate allocation of funds.
Many Afghans who could benefit from that program are on U.S. military bases awaiting their final destinations. Catholic Charities resettled 48 Afghan immigrants in Greater Portland as of Friday in the program’s first month.
The Jewish Community Alliance has been approved to help resettling Afghan humanitarian parolees through the federal program and other refugees from different populations. HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was founded in 1881 and is one of the oldest refugee resettlement organizations in the world.
Maine received an average of 423 refugees a year from 2013-17 through Catholic Charities resettlement programs, mostly from Somalia, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That number dropped to the mid-40s last year.
Refugees arrive in the U.S. through the federal Refugee Resettlement Program. Their origin countries have varied over time, corresponding to areas of global conflict. They typically do not have a say in where they are resettled unless they are joining family. The category is legally distinct from asylum seekers, though immigrants granted asylum qualify for services through refugee immigration programs.
Rowles said she received supportive messages from several members of the Jewish Community Alliance, who shared stories about how their own families were resettled by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the current name of the organization.