About 100 asylum-seekers arrived in Sanford last week. The city says it can’t take any more.

The new arrivals began coming to Sanford at the beginning of the week. “It was very quick,” one city official said.
New asylum seekers sit on a lawn in Sanford, Maine.
Newly arrived asylum seekers from Angola and other countries waited in Sanford this week. Photo by Mal Meyer of WGME CBS13.

About 100 asylum-seeking people have arrived in Sanford in the past week, among the growing number of migrants heading to towns and cities around Maine while the city of Portland struggles with its own burgeoning population of newcomers.

Sanford’s police department announced the arrivals Friday afternoon in a Facebook post that noted the city was participating in a coordinated effort to accommodate the families. The post generated more than 600 comments, many of them unfavorable.

City officials said Saturday about 100 people had arrived, and a couple families were turned away or sent to a neighboring community. The police department stressed in its Facebook post that Sanford could not accept more asylum seekers.  

“At this time our City has no more capacity to house any more families and that information is being relayed to the newly arrived families and our community partners statewide,” the police department post said. “This is a work in progress and can be complicated for all involved, and we ask for patience and understanding as we all work to help.”

City Councilor Maura Herlihy said in an interview Saturday there were about 28 families, including 35 children. The arrivals include one woman who is expected to give birth in about two weeks.

The arrivals, first reported by WGME, began at the beginning of the week. “It was very quick,” she said.

Many were from Angola, she said. WGME reported the arrivals also included people from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Herlihy said the families were processed for general assistance and relocated to local hotels. City staff worked until late Friday night to get them settled. 

“I do think this will settle down. Sanford is in many ways an inviting community,” Herlihy said, while conceding that some in the city were objecting to the arrivals.

As of mid April, more than 1,030 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since Jan. 1, according to the Portland Press Herald. The new arrivals have led the city to reopen the Expo Center, where about about 300 new arrivals have been housed.

In addition, newly arriving families have relocated to Saco, Old Orchard Beach, the Augusta area, and Brunswick-Bath areas over the past few years.

“There are people popping up in these small towns,” Chris Asch, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Capital Area New Mainers Project, told the Amjambo Africa news outlet earlier this year. “The resettlement agencies … have been looking far afield from Portland and Lewiston-Auburn because they have to, because there’s not much [housing] available and what is available is very expensive.”

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said cities and towns across Maine and across the country are experiencing arrivals of migrants who are fleeing their home countries. 

“Folks are just trying to find family and friends and create their own community there,” Chitam said Saturday. “Our systems are responding to support somebody who is found in need.”

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David Dahl

Veteran journalist David Dahl serves as the editor of The Maine Monitor, overseeing its daily operations. David was most recently a deputy managing editor at the Boston Globe. Before joining the Globe, David worked for 20 years at the St. Petersburg Times. He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a fellow at the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University. He has also been an adjunct professor of journalism at Emerson College, Boston College and Boston University. David and his wife, Kathy, enjoy tennis and kayaking at their home in Friendship. They have two adult children.
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