How Muslim Refugees Revived a Struggling American Town

The town of Lewiston, Maine is undergoing a revival thanks to an influx of Somali refugees. From CBS News:

When the refugees began arriving 15 years ago, many longtime residents were resentful. Lewiston’s economy was tanking, businesses were closing, jobs were scarce. The newcomers were seen as welfare freeloaders…

In fact, the city’s public assistance spending has remained unchanged since 1990. But what has changed is Lewiston itself. The town of 36,000 is now home to about 6,000 refugees, who have revived downtown.

“I believe we’re better off having a community where it’s acceptance, that people trust one another,” Chabot said.

High school senior Abdi Shariff’s family moved here when he was nine.

“Some people just need to be educated and ask questions,” Shariff said. “Just to get to know us.”

Last year, the Lewiston High soccer team, which Shariff captained, won the state championship — the first in school history. How many players on the team are Somalis?

“We have about 26 players on the varsity team, and I wanna say roughly about 21 of them are non-native Americans,” [School principal]Chabot said.

About 4,500 people turned out for the championship game to cheer on their school, their community. Their kids.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is falling woefully short of its goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the fiscal year in October. Since the goal was announced only 1,736 Syrians have been resettled, about 17%. At this rate, says Ray Offenheiser of Oxfam America, the USA will not meet half of its goal by October. “It continues to lag far behind.  Not only does it fall short of its stated goal, it also fails to uphold the compassionate and generous spirit of the American people.”

10,000 refugees out of a total refugee population of 5 million is, of course, a drop in the bucket. But in communities like Lewiston, which was hit particularly hard by an economy wide shift away from manufacturing, its clear that an influx of a just a few thousand new residents can make a meaningful difference.

(Even, ahem, if they belong to a religious minority.)