In “Long Way Home,” the Portland Press Herald told the story of the large influx of asylum seekers arriving in Maine in recent years. Reporters and photographers spent several months learning why people fled their homelands – mostly in Central Africa – and the arduous journeys they made to Maine, many thousands of miles from where they were born. They learned about how asylum seekers learned of Maine, what drew them to come here, how their lives here have been and what their hopes are for the future.

Here are six takeaways from the series:

Exodus to the Pine Tree State: The people from Central Africa who have been arriving in Maine in large numbers are fleeing poverty, crime, civil wars and repressive governments. Deciding to leave is not casual. Their long journeys are costly and often put them in great peril as they travel across numerous countries – partly on foot, partly by bus, taxi, truck – paying off smugglers to help them cross borders. Unlike previous waves of immigrants to Maine, they don’t make these epic trips with any certainty they can stay – and they often have to wait many years for their asylum cases to be settled here.

Welcome to safety land: Some asylum seekers learn about Maine by doing research on the web. Many others find out about it from fellow travelers on their long journeys to the United States or already know of people from home who have settled in the state and found community here. Maine has a reputation for being welcoming and for offering generous aid to newcomers through its General Assistance program. But what many people arriving here say is that they came here because they heard it was safe.

Wandering a new world: Most asylum seekers who come to Maine arrive in its biggest city, Portland, where they find themselves among many others in similar circumstances. Portland has a shortage of shelter space. Churches and nonprofits are also working hard to house people and meet their basic needs. The large influx of newcomers in recent months leaves the city unable to offer the level of assistance it used to – and it tells asylum seekers now that they’ll have to look for more permanent housing on their own. People who come here from across the world often find themselves a little lost at first, wandering around a strange city, trying to help themselves – by filling out applications, finding ways to learn English, applying for health care and looking for places to call home.

Life on hold: Asylum cases are backlogged. Asylum seekers often have to wait many years to find out if they can stay in Maine permanently. The waiting is frustrating and keeps some of them from feeling fully comfortable about putting down roots in their new home. After all, more than half of all U.S. asylum applications are denied. As they wait for the decisions, some asylum seekers say they feel at sea – forgotten by the people and agencies that offered aid when they first arrived and misunderstood and sometimes resented by residents of the state.

What can Maine do?: Local governments and advocates trying to help the influx of asylum seekers continue to demand that the state play a larger role in offering assistance, financial and otherwise. Some want the state to pay a greater share of General Assistance to ease the burden on local governments. Some are asking for a centralized state office to coordinate resources and expertise in providing help. Across the state, however, there is far from a consensus on how much Maine can and should help asylum seekers – and a lack of clear data to inform the debate. Some Mainers fear that helping asylum seekers comes at the expense of the many state residents who are struggling. Others see helping New Mainers as an investment in solving the labor shortage in the oldest state in the nation. Meanwhile, states have no control over many of the big factors – how many immigrants can enter the country, how quickly asylum seekers can work to support themselves once they’re here – and efforts at federal immigration law tend to go nowhere.

They made it here: Many asylum seekers who have been in Maine for years now have gone from sleeping in shelters to forging great careers here and helping to bring new life to their communities. Knowing how hard it is to be strangers in a foreign land often leads those who have been through it to find ways to offer guidance and help to the newcomers.

In photos: View a gallery of some of the best images from ‘Long Way Home’

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