A trio of children play a game on a phone at the emergency shelter setup inside the Portland Expo building on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Hundreds of new asylum seekers, mainly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, started arriving in Portland the week prior. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

An immediate need for dozens of baby strollers among asylum seekers currently staying in the Expo building has quickly been met.

On Tuesday, a city spokesperson confirmed that it worked with private and non-profit channels to fulfill a request for strollers through donations. The city is currently planning the distribution of the strollers, which will be brought to the Expo shelter and Family Shelter, which serves homeless populations on Chestnut Street.

In the last month, Portland has received more than 300 migrants, the majority of them fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As of last week, more than 220 remain in Portland, among them reportedly 50 to 60 families.

[Government persecution, bandits and crossing the ‘Mountain of Death’: Migrant families describe perilous journey to Portland]

The donations represent another example of civic and community support for Maine’s asylum seekers, illustrating the contrast to the numerous reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“When I met with asylum seekers at the Portland Expo, I was struck by how dramatically different their experience has been compared to those being held in detention centers at our southern border,” Maine 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree said Tuesday.

“At ICE detention centers in Texas, I saw children caged and shivering under mylar blankets, without a parent in sight. One little girl had torn a strip of her blanket to create a ribbon for her hair, which was a reminder of her need to play and simply be a child even in the worst of circumstances.

“At the Portland Expo, there were not only toys for the young asylum seekers, they were able to remain with their parents, sleep on cots, receive medical care, and were free to leave at any time. I’m so proud of our state for welcoming these families fleeing unimaginable violence. The way Portland’s community groups have stepped up to ensure their transition is not only humane, but compassionate.”

[As Portland surges with newcomers, here’s a look at the process of seeking asylum and why it’s different this time]

On June 14, Pingree joined Governor Janet Mills and city officials for a tour of the temporary shelter at the Expo. Pingree visited the U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, in June 2018.

More than $500,000 in monetary donations have been raised to assist the asylum seekers in the last month, including a substantial donation from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation.

The city is not soliciting strollers or other materials at this time. Monetary donations can be made online or by texting EXPO to 91999.

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