Damakant Jayshi

Despite a language barrier, adults in 32 of the 41 local refugee households are employed full-time, with people from seven more households working part-time and two self-employed, according to an agency helping resettle refugees in Wausau and neighboring areas.

The average size of a household, or ‘case’ as it is sometimes called, is three people.

These figures were shared Thursday during a presentation update on the resettlement of Afghan and other refugees in the area during an educational meeting of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors.

Adam VanNoord, the director of the Multicultural Community Center, the Wausau branch of the national Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc., provided the update and said self-sufficiency of arriving households is a major area they work on.

Resettlement of refugees and parolees in Wausau, initially from Afghanistan, began in December 2021. VanNoord said the agency has resettled closer to 200 people since then but only 129 have chosen to stay in central Wisconsin. The remaining have moved to other states to reunite with families or friends after initially resettling in the area.

Between January and March 2023, 10 refugees arrived, taking the total to 45 in the current fiscal year. Additionally, MCC has resettled eight Ukrainians and four Cubans in the area, said VanNoord, adding that the agency is expecting 20 more arrivals through September in the fiscal year.

Refugees and parolees arrive in the United States after a vigorous background check.

More than 60%, or 21, households have resettled in Wausau and eight in Stevens Point. Two have chosen Marshfield. Afghans comprise nearly 53%, or 69, with the next ethnicity being Congolese, at 48 or about 33%. Those who have settled here also includes people from Somalia and Burundi in Africa. The MCC director said they expect half of new cases to come from central Africa, like Rwanda, Burundi. Some of these people have been living in refugee camps for decades.

During the presentation, supervisors asked about how refugees are coping with the language barrier and how children are faring in schools.

VanNoord said they are working with schools and volunteers to help refugees improve their English language skills and have made headway. Responding to a question from Supervisor Ron Covelli on how the agency was managing housing for the refugees given the shortage of affordable housing in the county, VanNoord said they have had success in persuading landlords to rent their units to refugees despite having no credit score or job. He said they also have strong network of local landlords with whom they work.