Damakant Jayshi

The U.S. State Department approved a new refugee resettlement plan in Wausau, where the first refugees could arrive by the end of the year, according to the Ethiopian Community Development Council, a resettlement agency.

The Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration approved the ECDC plan to open its Multicultural Community Center in Wausau, paving the way for the agency to include Afghans in Wausau, through the Afghan Placement and Assistance program.

The number of arrivals could be 10 or more by December, ECDC officials said, adding that the program plans to receive 75 more refugees from January through September 2022.

A State Department spokesperson told Wausau Pilot & Review that while they cannot predict the number or nationality of the refugees that will ultimately resettle to Wausau, the emphasis is on reunification with U.S.-based family and friends.

“As family reunification is a core tenet of the program, this factor can affect how many individuals are sent to certain locations,” the official said. “The local agencies will provide assistance with critical needs such as housing, enrolling children in school, and basic necessities such as food, clothing, and furnishings during the first 30-90 days in their new communities.”

The official added that Afghans granted humanitarian parole through the APA program will be placed in communities across the country in 46 states.

While the composition and the exact timing of the refugees’ arrival is not certain at this time, most of the new arrivals that the ECDC is helping with are Afghans.

Tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. troops in various capacities during the 20-year war have been evacuated by the federal government, during and after a takeover of the country by the Taliban, a feat they completed in August following the withdrawal of the U.S. troops. More than 8,000 Afghans are now being housed at Wisconsin’s Fort McKoy.

“ECDC’s proposal to resettle refugees in Wausau has been driven by the community’s interest in welcoming newcomers,” said Jessica Chapman, ECDC’s Director of Community Engagement. “We will continue to work closely with community stakeholders to establish the program and welcome the first arrivals.”

The ECDC is working with New Beginnings for Refugees, a coalition of volunteers currently under the aegis of the Community Foundation for North Central Wisconsin. New Beginnings is seeking its own 501(c)3 status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Pastor Rebecca Voss of First United Methodist Church in Wausau has been working to engage the local community and leaders, including Wausau’s Mayor, Katie Rosenberg, to help the new arrivals with housing and jobs, among other needs. In a note on the New Beginnings website, Voss explained how the community organization was formed “to help prepare for and support our new refugee neighbors.”

Wausau Pilot & Review reported in July that Wausau could host new resettlement program. Some local reports said the resettlement could begin only after April next year as the logistics were still being put in place. The evacuation of thousands of Afghans and other refugee and migrants as part of the resettlement program expedited the program.

Gwendolyn Paul joined ECDC’s team as a volunteer co-sponsorship coordinator, and she will be working to mobilize co-sponsorship teams in the coming month, ECDC said.

Neither the city of Wausau nor the state will foot the bill for these efforts, as the program is funded by federal agencies. There is an expectation that local community and businesses would help in resettlement efforts.

Previously, a State Dept. spokesperson told Wausau Pilot & Review that “as a public-private partnership, we expect resettlement agencies to develop private resources, both cash and in-kind, to supplement this funding.”

The State’s PRM supports the initial 30-90 day post-arrival process through Reception and Placement funding, which passes through a local resettlement agency responsible for initial refugee resettlement, in this instance ECDC. After that and until five years post arrival, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, under the Department of Health and Human Services, provides support services such as employment, English as a Second language instruction, healthcare, and others. 

Local community organizations, businesses, chambers of commerce and individuals voluntarily contribute toward the cost as well. A fact sheet by UNHCR USA lays out the refugee resettlement process in the United States.

Read the full ECDC press release here.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at [email protected].