GREEN BAY - After fleeing their homeland, hundreds of Somali refugees have found a new home in Northeast Wisconsin.
Somali is nation on the east coast of Africa. A civil war has torn the country apart for more than 20 years.
It's a nation known to many as the site of the movie 'Black Hawk Down' or as the place where pirates terrorize the sea. But in Green Bay, there's a face to this faraway land.
"I am from Somalia," said Fadumo Mahamud.
"Are you happy to be in Green Bay?" FOX 11 On Special Assignment reporter Robert Hornacek asked.
"Yes," she said.
Mahamud and her family fled the Somali capital of Mogadishu in 2007. They spent three years as refugees in Egypt. Last year, the family moved to Green Bay.
"It's a quiet city and I learn English," Mahamud said.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, since 1995, the federal government has resettled 695 Somali refugees in Wisconsin. The majority have resettled in Milwaukee. Sixty-three have been resettled in Brown County. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, in the last 10 years, 60,003 Somali refugees have been resettled in the U.S. The state with the highest number of Somali refugees is Minnesota.
Once the refugees are in the U.S. they are free to move wherever they choose. That's referred to as "secondary migration." In the last year, Green Bay has become a popular place, with hundreds of Somali refugees moving in, including people like Firdosa Hussein.
"The reason why people are coming to Green Bay is the reason why everybody else is living in Green Bay," Hussein said. "The environment is great. The educational system is absolutely wonderful. It's much safer."
Hussein was born in Somalia and raised in Minneapolis and New York. She moved to Green Bay a few months ago.
"More of a mellow environment rather than the fast-paced environment in Minnesota," Hussein said.
Hussein is not alone. While no one knows exactly how many Somali refugees are living in Green Bay, some community leaders say there could be as many as 500 families.
One place you can see the rising population is in area schools. According to the Green Bay school district, at the end of last school year, there were 18 Somali students in Green Bay. At the end of this year, there were 220. The Howard-Suamico School District had 10 Somali students last year. This year, there are 48.
Most of the Somali refugees worship at the mosque on Velp Avenue. Many shop at the new Somali grocery store on Military Avenue. Soon, there will be a Somali restaurant for the refugees to eat at. A community is also in the works.
The rising population is no surprise to Abdul Nur.
"I think it's a very well kept secret the city of Green Bay," Nur said. He says he was the first Somali in Green Bay. He moved here in 1990. He attributes the rising Somali population to the quality of life here.
"It started with two people telling three, four or five people who said yes, it's really awesome. People are nice. Schools are good. People with children say that's where I want to go. That's where I want to settle and they come in," Nur said.
The federal government says many explanations have been suggested for secondary migration including better employment, established communities, family, climate and welfare benefits.
Since refugees often enter the U.S. with no money, they typically receive government assistance for things like food, medical care and housing. According to the latest stats available from the federal government, in 2008, taxpayers spent $523 million on refugees, $4.9 million of that was spent in Wisconsin.
The federal government says about half of all refugee families receive food stamps and about a quarter receive federal housing assistance.
In Brown County, there are 250 Somalia families receiving food stamps and/or medical benefits. About 130 are receiving federal housing assistance.
"We just want acceptance," Hussein said. "We want peace like everybody else. We came here to do the right thing and be part of society not to be a burden on society."
Hussein says the government assistance for some has led to many stereotypes. She says some accuse Somalis of coming to Green Bay just for the benefits.
"It is insulting to the county and it is insulting to the Somali culture," Hussein said. She and two other Somali women have started a new business called Empowered Chicks to try to foster understanding.
"We're trying to help the community and fill the gap that is here in Green Bay," said Nimo Dahir.
"We're Muslim. We're Somali. We're American. We're here to educate and we're here to help both cultures, the Somali culture and the American culture, because we're from both sides," Hussein said.
On June 24, there is an event in Green Bay designed to educate people about Somali culture. The event is from 1-4 p.m. at the Brown County Library in downtown Green Bay. To RSVP for the event call (920) 448-6730.
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