Bangor will welcome refugees from Iraq and eastern and central Africa this summer after the organization in charge of resettling refugees in Maine received government approval to bring them to the city.
The new residents will be refugees from countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Rwanda and Sudan, as well as Iraq, said Julie Allaire, the chief strategy and business development officer for Catholic Charities Maine.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities’ parent organization, received federal approval on Dec. 21 to resettle refugees in Bangor through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said Kathy Mockler, a Catholic Charities spokesperson.
The approval marks the expansion of refugee resettlement here beyond southern Maine, where most have been brought to the Portland and Lewiston areas.
Catholic Charities had originally hoped to resettle Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban in Bangor, but the organization chose to concentrate those resettlement efforts in southern Maine, Allaire said.
“They arrived so quickly that there was less lead time, and we made more use of hotels,” she said.
Catholic Charities has helped 114 Afghan refugees resettle in southern Maine, while Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services and Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine have helped resettle another 125 people, Allaire said.
Catholic Charities was approved to resettle 50 refugees in Bangor in 2022, but won’t be able to resettle anyone until June, so the organization anticipates that, instead, 15 people will be resettled.
Catholic Charities has tried for years to resettle refugees in the Bangor area, but the Trump administration’s drastic contraction of the refugee program delayed that process, Allaire said.
Federal data showed that the number of refugees coming to Maine dropped sharply after 2016. Only nine of the 4,000 people who resettled in Maine between 2002 and 2019 moved to the Bangor area.
Catholic Charities will help refugees find housing and jobs and access services like employment authorization, medical care, child care, public benefits, transportation and language training, Allaire said.
“Our aim is to help them achieve economic self-sufficiency,” Allaire said.
Catholic Charities plans to open a Bangor office by May, and is partnering with local officials and the Maine Multicultural Center, a local organization, to find short- and long-term housing, Allaire said.
Bangor will welcome its new residents, said City Council Chair Rick Fournier.
“Certainly they’re welcome and we’re in support,” he said.