Attracting more refugees to small towns in Maine can be the answer to addressing the labor shortage and shrinking population in the northern part of the state. It is possible.

At the moment I don’t see this conversation happening on the platforms Maine immigrants use, but we need to start talking now about connecting Maine’s newer refugee communities to northern Maine.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

When the Somalis moved into Lewiston a few years ago, there was not much of a support system set up for them to adjust to their new home. Some even thought that we would not be able to remain there because of all the hate and racism, including tossing a pig’s head into the mosque. Yet, the community persisted and thrived.

Anyone who knows Lewiston before the 1990s and the Lewiston of today can see the difference. Newly  arrived communities changed the city, and in some cases made it known to the world. Elections of members of the minority communities went viral and soccer games involving youths who were born in refugee camps were in the news.

What the Somalis did in Lewiston can also be done in other towns, this time with the support of all communities in the state, including employers and longtime residents.

Among the refugees in our state are people who have farming and livestock skills. Members of my Somali community fled their farms and animals back in Somalia after the civil war broke out and still have those skills ready to use when given the opportunity. The Somali Bantus in Maine, for example, were a farming community before they were forced out of their farms and land by the war and in some cases by severe droughts. They have brought their skills to Maine and the vegetables they produce here during the summer farming season come to our dinner tables and we find them at the farmers markets. They have proved that our state is a place that these new communities can make their broken dreams come to life by using whatever skills they have. The Somali Bantu farmers bought land, are farming successfully across the state and are thriving. All other communities can do the same.

It is not only the farming skills that Maine immigrants bring with them to Maine, however. You can find people who have different skills and backgrounds, including construction and fishing, the very same areas where labor is needed.

Immigrant leadership in the state should start facilitating the process of connecting Maine’s different communities to different towns. Community leaders are wasting most of their time in the politics of Maine and the nation when some of that energy should go to facilitating trips to places they don’t often reach, to meet with locals in towns such as Presque Isle and Fort Kent.

The shrinking Maine population and the labor shortage should be a priority issue to all Maine communities. The future of the state lies in diversifying the state’s towns, facilitating the process of the immigrants moving into areas outside the Portland and Lewiston areas. The different backgrounds, cultures, skills and languages that the refugees and immigrants bring to Maine is what can make our state the place that can take the lead in different communities working together. And luckily we have members representing us in Congress who will be cheering for us.

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