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Wausau prepares to receive 85 refugees within the next year

Afghan refugees wait to be processed Sept. 8 inside Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Afghan refugees wait to be processed Sept. 8 inside Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

More than 85 refugees could be resettled in Wausau within the next year.

The Ethiopian Community Development Council recently received approval from the State Department to resettle refugees in the city.

It expects to resettle more than 10 refugees in Wausau in the next three months. Then, the program plans to welcome another 75 people through September 2022.

The refugees could come from all over the world, but Emily Gilkinson, ECDC’s Community Engagement and Communications Officer, expects many will come from Afghanistan.

“Right now, we aren’t specifying. We just know they will come from different places,” she explains. “But likely we will get many from Afghanistan since that’s a large population in the pipeline at the moment.”

In preparation to welcome the refugees, ECDC will open a new Multicultural Community Center in Wausau.

It’s currently looking to hire a director for that facility and is trying to raise enough money to hire local staff too.

Then, Gilkinson says, ECDC will need community support.

“We have limited government grants that we use for this resettlement program, but it is not sufficient to meet all of the needs of these individuals,” she says. “We like to partner with local businesses, community groups and individuals to fundraise to cover those critical gaps.”

Gilkinson says many community members in Wausau are already organizing and finding ways to serve incoming refugees.

A local nonprofit called New Beginnings, for example, is inviting people interested in learning more about the refugee admissions program to attend a virtual education event.

The outpouring of community support is part of the reason why Wausau was chosen as a resettlement site.

At the same time, Wausau’s selection is part of a larger effort to resettle refugees in more rural parts of the country.

“The idea is that, as we rebuild the refugee resettlement program, which was cut in recent years, we want to have this population spread across the country and be integrated into the fabric of all communities, not just be concentrated in particular large urban centers,” Gilkinson says.

Resettling refugees in Wausau is just one step toward that vision.

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