Municipalities throughout Maine have been struggling to accommodate the state’s rapidly growing refugee and asylum seeker populations — and things are about to get a lot harder.
The Office of Maine Refugee Services (OMRS) — managed by Catholic Charities — expects to see twice as many refugees come to the state in fiscal year (FY) 2024 compared to FY 2023, which ended on October 1.
Maine is planning to accept 840 refugees in FY 2024, while the state only saw a total of 419 refugees in FY 2023.
The majority of those who came in 2023 were relocated to Portland, Lewiston, Scarborough, and Auburn.
Although the upcoming increase may sound dramatic, the number for FY 2023 was already nearly a 400% increase compared to FY 2022 — in FY 2022, Maine accepted just 113 refugees.
Municipalities are not the only ones struggling to adapt to the fast-growing number of refugees coming to Maine — the organizations responsible for relocating refugees have also reported being overwhelmed by the rapidly rising numbers in Maine.
Catholic Charities is expecting to take around 500 refugees, the Jewish Community Alliance will accept roughly 140, and the Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services will be responsible for around 200.
These figures are not inclusive of any asylum seekers who may be coming into Maine this year, nor of any others who are destined for the state via other immigration channels.
Unlike for asylum seekers, the number of refugees expected to enter the country during a particular time period is generally known in advance.
Generally speaking, refugees are those who have already had their claims evaluated by the proper authorities, while asylum seekers are those who have not.
Furthermore, refugees apply for protection before coming to the United States — although they generally do so from outside their home countries — and asylum seekers submit their applications either from inside the United States or at one of the nation’s ports of entry.
Once an asylum seeker’s claim has been evaluated and accepted by authorities, that person is then also legally recognized as a refugee.
Both refugees and asylum seekers file claims for protection that assert they cannot return to their home countries due to past or potential persecution for their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
When considering the challenges likely to be faced in the resettlement of these expected refugees, a lack of available housing is one of the most frequently cited concerns of those who will ultimately be responsible for relocating the 840 refugees coming to Maine this year.
These concerns over housing are by no means exclusive to refugee resettlement.
The state government recently released a report revealing that Maine will need more than 84,000 homes and apartments by 2030 in order to compensate for the current lack of supply and expected population growth.
One way in which the strain placed on Maine’s municipalities is already felt is an examination of the way different towns and cities have balanced the needs of homeless Mainers against those of asylum seekers.
As of now, it remains to be seen how Maine and its municipalities will ultimately handle the influx of refugees expected over the next the twelve months, as well as how this will impact the availability of scarce resources — including housing — for Mainers.