Big group of refugees to resettle in St. Cloud

Ambar Espinoza
MPR reporter Ambar Espinoza
MPR/Tim Post

Lutheran Social Services (LSS) plans to resettle 300 refugees over the next three years in St. Cloud. Refugee populations, mostly from Somalia, have had a growing presence in St. Cloud for the past decade. Phil Picardi talked to reporter Ambar Espinoza from Collegeville to talk about the changing demographics in the St. Cloud area and other stories she's following in central Minnesota.


The 300 refugees will settle in St. Cloud over the next of three years. Eighty-six of those are resettling in St. Cloud through Lutheran Social Services this year. Nine are from Iraq and the rest from Somalia. Lutheran Social Services will enroll the 86 refugees in classes to learn English. The organization will also help them adjust to their new lives in the Unites States, enroll their children in school, and find jobs and housing.

Kim Dettmer, Director of Refugee Services at Lutheran Social Services, said no one has an exact figure for the total number of refugees living in the St. Cloud area. Many community and nonprofit leaders estimate that the African population in St. Cloud is between 8,000 and 10,000--this figure includes people who came to the United States as refugees and who have since become naturalized citizen and no longer have refugee status. Lutheran Social Services learned that St. Cloud had a large and growing Somali population, so it opened an employment office in St. Cloud in 2002 to provide extra support.

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Throughout the past decade, many refugees moved to St. Cloud on their own. These refugees represent many countries including Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, and Ethiopia. They picked St. Cloud because they heard through word of mouth that St. Cloud has good neighborhoods, good schools, and good jobs. Dettmer said many Vietnamese who were resettled in St. Cloud as refugees since the end of the Vietnam War still live in the area.

Dettmer said last year LSS resettled 200 refugees in the state, and two of them were resettled in St. Cloud because they had family in St. Cloud already. The refugee resettlement program is a federal program. LSS is one of five organizations that are contracted by the government to resettle refugees. Last year, President Obama authorized the admission of up to 80,000 refugees total in the country in the fiscal year 2010.

While the refugee resettlement program has received positive feedback from some leaders and community members in St. Cloud, another challenge new refugees may face include religious and cultural misunderstandings. The St. Cloud area has been the recent spotlight of racial, religious, and cultural tensions: from anti-Islamic cartoons to broken windows at the mosque to graffiti on a Somali-owned business that read, "GO HOME."


Last Thursday, two tornadoes touched down in Stearns County: one in Brooten and one St. Augusta. No one was injured, but there is significant property damage. Then a severe thunderstorm on Friday caused a massive tree blow down over more than 100 square miles in Stearns County. No one was injured in this severe thunderstorm either. Marvin Klug, the director of Stearns County Emergency Management, said he doesn't have an exact figure on how many trees were damaged but he estimates "thousands." The county's biggest challenge at the moment is to clean up all of these trees, according to Klug. He said it's taken hours to clear county and township roads. The county is relying on volunteer organizations that will help cut up trees, and other volunteers that will stack logs and pile branches. Klug said he has received 30 requests from people asking the county to help in cleaning up trees from their homes.

Klug said it's too premature to estimate the cost of damages overall. So far a preliminary damage assessment report by the American Red Cross for Stearns County found about 130 homes that have minor damage: roofs torn off, shingles missing, and siding damage. All homes are still habitable.

The National Weather Service will visit Stearns County today to look for signs of twisters that have occurred during the past week, including large swaths of damage or damage paths that fan out in one direction.

According to Tony Zaleski of the Twin Cities National Weather Service, the central Minnesota area has been one of the harder hit areas as far as severe weather and rainfall. The National Weather Service has picked up approximately 48 tornadoes in central Minnesota and south central Minnesota during the season so far. It has also recorded 3.48 inches of rain at the St. Cloud airport this month. In the month of August, Minnesota has gotten anywhere between an inch to as much as five to six inches.

Minnesota didn't have severe weather until mid-June according to Zaleski.