… Antonie Bikamba, who fled political persecution and torture in his native Rwanda in 2007, said he relied on General Assistance for roughly a year until receiving a federal work permit. He ultimately went back to school, earned a master’s degree in conflict resolution and now works as a caseworker at Preble Street, a nonprofit that provides services to Portland’s homeless community.
He urged the committee not to cut off assistance to asylum seekers who have no other way to support themselves until they receive work permits, a process that takes at least six months but often much longer.
"Refugees are a diverse group with many different skills … and those seeking asylum, including myself, come here because we fear for our lives, not because we want a handout," Bikamba said. "I didn’t cross the ocean to receive General Assistance. I came to Maine because I wanted a new life …"