Pedro Cardoso

Portland's welcome

Portland’s welcome

In June last year the town of Portland in Maine, north west USA, was suddenly in the news because thirty-nine migrants from Angola and the DRC had showed up at migrant reception centres there. While awaiting their asylum hearings they had come here because they had heard that the town counts important Angolan and Congolese communities, based there for over three decades. They had also heard of the ‘open arm policy’ of the city. In the words of Mayor Ethan Strimling, ‘the state of Maine is very large and we need workers and young families’.

Nsiona Nguizan, a high profile Angolan community member in the town who came here to study eight years ago, has seen the city ‘little by little’ opening its doors to his compatriots. ‘The population here is aging’, he says in a telephonic interview. ‘The government's strategy, quite correctly, is to invite students from all over the world and bring in migrants to revive the local economy’. Private companies are on board too, he adds. ‘There is a “General Assistance” fund, set up by private companies, that supports new immigrants for a year with housing and other expenses until they can be employed’. The investment is already paying off. ‘Schools that were closed for lack of children have opened their doors again. Other cities in Maine phone me because they also want to attract migrants’.

There are challenges. Most migrants arrive traumatised after their long, hazardous travels and often don’t have passports anymore. Some, who have fled oppression by military and other authorities in Angola, ‘may not appreciate the help of the Angolan consulate in registering their identities’, Nguizan says. Yet others may be Congolese and other Africans with forged Angolan passports, obtained to get to Brazil. ‘We have to navigate these problems. But we try to make them feel at home again. We cook the food, we play the music’.

In the end, most migrants aim for Canada, which they see as easier for establishing legal residence. Québec, only five hours from Portland and in the French-speaking part of Canada, is also preferred by French and Portuguese speaking migrants because of the language.