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Seven Afghan refugees have resettled in Brown County as leaders discuss process on local panel

Posted at 3:28 PM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 23:31:32-04

DE PERE, Wis. (NBC 26) — Just two weeks ago, nearly 13,000 Afghan refugees lived at Wisconsin's Fort McCoy, awaiting their next destination.

And Bojana Zoric Martinez is working to streamline the process.

"Most likely, Wisconsin will end up with seeing more than 399 [Afghan refugees] across our state," Zoric Martinez, Wisconsin Bureau of Refugee Programs director, said.

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On Monday night, St. Norbert College hosted a panel discussion, where officials described how they're preparing for refugee resettlement in Brown Co.

Zoric Martinez says the state is approved to receive up to 399 Afghan refugees after successful background and medical checks.

Afghan refugees

"We'll help them with housing, furnishing of their homes, clothing, food and so on," she said. "And then we'll also help them apply for public benefits."

Karmen Lemke of Catholic Charities of Green Bay has already welcomed seven Afghan refugees to Brown Co. Her task force recently announced an offer to resettle up to 49 people.

"We received at the airport our seventh Afghan guest to our community," Lemke said.

Afghan Refugees.jpeg
Afghan refugees line up for food in a dining hall at Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village, in New Mexico, where they are being housed, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

When they arrive, Lemke provides services like job-seeking guidance, along with necessities to live.

"One of our highest needs along with housing is language interpretation," she said. "So we have begun to use some local interpreters."

Panel host Robert Pyne says the situation reminds his colleagues of the year 1980, when around 14,000 Cuban refugees came through Fort McCoy.

Fort McCoy Wisconsin

"They likely left empty-handed and now are looking to restart life in the midst of grief," the Norman Miller Center director said.

With more than a handful of Afghan refugees already in Brown Co., officials say they expect more arrivals in the coming weeks.

"They have been so incredibly courageous in what they've gone through, and now they need our welcome," Pyne said.