Lewiston refugees celebrate resettlement changes during soccer tournament

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LEWISTON, Maine —Refugees in Lewiston are celebrating changes to federal policies which, they hope, will allow more people to resettle in Maine.

After weeks of pressure from resettlement supporters, the Biden administration announced plans last week to raise the cap on refugee admissions from the historically low 15,000 established during the Trump administration to 62,500.

Members of Lewiston’s refugee and Muslim communities said Tuesday night the move has given them hope.

Dozens gathered at Lewiston Middle School for the conclusion of the annual Ramadan soccer tournament for young men.

For many new Mainers living in Lewiston, the game represents a shared language.

“It is a way of communicating. Just because you forget about all the hardships, all the struggles,” said Mohamed Khalid, the tournament’s organizer.

Khalid, originally from Somalia, spent three years in a refugee camp in Kenya before resettlement in the U.S.

“Only families that were separated by wars can relate to that,” said Abdullahi Ali, CEO of Gateway Community Services, which sponsored the tournament.

A majority of the people at the soccer match, both on the sidelines and playing in the game, are originally from Somalia.

In addition to raising the refugee cap, players are celebrating the recent decision from President Biden which dropped the Trump-era policy restricting refugee resettlements from Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

“That’s something a lot of the people in the community are excited about because it gives them hope. They’re hopeful that more of their families that are in struggles and in dire conditions will be able to have the chance to come to this country to seek a better life,” said Khalid.

The Biden administration also laid out new regional allotments last month to guide resettlement selections with 7,000 slots reserved for refugees from Africa.

Catholic Charities, the state’s only resettlement agency, says the action will help reunite families.

“Reunification is very important to so many people,” Ali said.

The winners of Tuesday night’s game were awarded cash prizes from Gateway.

Twelve hundred dollars went to the winning team and $500 to the second place team.

For organizers, the money is a down payment on continued community engagement, paying it forward to the generation they hope will pave the way for the Mainers of tomorrow.

“We will be welcoming to those people that do arrive. Even if they’re not Somali it’s more of the refugee and struggling together that’s going to bring us together,” Khalid said.