The Otsego Refugee Resettlement Coalition announced it has received certification to begin resettling refugees in the county.

The coalition applied to the U.S. Department of State to become a private sponsor group through the Welcome Corps program and was accepted April 24, a media release said. According to the Department of State’s website, the department worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to launch the Welcome Corps program in January. The program is a “new private sponsorship program that empowers everyday Americans to play a leading role in welcoming refugees arriving through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” the website said.

“We found that the work the coalition had been doing for the last 18 months was in sync with what was required by Welcome Corps,” Debra Marcus, one of the coalition’s founders, said in a media release. “We have committees on housing, employment, health care, culture, education including English as a Second Language (for both children and adults), transportation and fundraising. Those were all essential to the application process.”

In an email to committee members, Marcus said the coalition’s application “was one of over 200 applications and is now one of the first eight to be approved and certified. We will be matched with a refugee family this week or next, and then the family will arrive two to six weeks after that.”

Marcus said the group has housing set up for a family of five and hopes to resettle more families in the future. She said in an email the refugees will “more than likely” be coming “from sub Saharan Africa and most likely be from Democratic Republic of Congo (highest probability) or Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi or Eritrea.”

In the email, she asked for committee members to search for people who may speak the following languages: Kiswahili, Swahili, Lingala, Kibembe, Kinyarwanda, Arabic (not Middle eastern Arabic, need to confirm Arabic speakers from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea), Somali, Kirundi, Tigrinya, Tigre, Oromo and Amharic. “It’s important to have an interpreter who will also be a mentor and contact point for the refugee, who may not have other people who speak their language in the U.S., she said in the email. “The more languages our coalition can cover, the more options the Welcome Corps will have to match us with a refugee family.”

The coalition is a group of nonprofit organizations, businesses, educational institutions, faith communities and local individuals who want to help refugees settle in Otsego County. The group was formed in October 2021 by Marcus and Rev. Marti Swords-Horrell, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Oneonta, who wanted to help refugees resettle in the area. The coalition is working with the Center for Refugees in Utica.

For more information, visit Questions or suggestions can be emailed to

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7221.

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