Nearly 300 Syrian refugees flee ongoing crisis, resettle in Buffalo

BUFFALO VIEW

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Nearly 12,000 immigrants and refugees were resettled in Erie County between 2008 and October 7, 2016.

That’s according to a report posted online over the weekend by County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

The first Syrian refugees did not resettle in Buffalo until last year. 280 are living in the city today.

Officials estimate 11 million Syrians have been displaced by a violent war.

Terror Attack Fuels Concerns

Efforts to resettle Syrians in the U.S. were met with protests after the Paris terror attacks. French prosecutors claimed one of the terrorists entered Europe by posing as a refugee.

The news came around the same time the Obama Administration announced its goal to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. within one fiscal year.

County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo called on Poloncarz to reverse his stance on accepting the refugees.

But as News 4 first reported, resettlement is a two-year process that doesn’t involve state or local governments.

The Obama administration ended up meeting its goal ahead of schedule. The 10,000th Syrian refugee was resettled in the U.S. in August.

The White House announced it would strive to bring in 110,000 refugees from around the world next year; a 30 percent increase from the 85,000 allowed in this year.

New Beginnings

Refugees start from scratch when they resettle in the U.S.

There are currently four refugee resettlement agencies in Buffalo. Their goal is to help refugees live independent and self-sufficient lives.

In the beginning many immigrants and refugees are eligible for SNAP and HEAP. They can also apply for affordable housing.

Habitat for Humanity Buffalo says nearly 60 percent of homes went to refugees this year.

A spokesperson said the application process is the same for all families, refugee or otherwise.

Each family also has to put in 500 hours of sweat equity, which includes 150 hours of work on another home, plus 350 hours of work into their own.

The family also has to pay back a 30 year mortgage.

“We don’t give away houses for free,” said Teresa Bianchi, Executive Director.

A Growing Community

Officials say there are now 20,000 refugees in Buffalo. More than a third come from Burma (4,000).

Immigrants and refugees from Bhutan (1,800), Somalia (1,800) and Iraq (1,200) have also resettled in Buffalo.

News 4 Anchor Brittini Smallwood looked into the burden refugees may have on taxpayers in Erie County.

She spoke with county executive spokesman Peter Anderson. He said there is no county tax money being used to resettle refugees.

Anderson said the county does have contracts with four agencies that help refugees, but those agencies also aid local families in Western New York.

Smallwood also sat down with Ann Brittain, the director of the immigration and refugee assistance program at Catholic Charities.

Brittain said many refugees rely on SNAP and Medicaid when they first arrive, but the federal government reimburses those costs. New York State also provides funds to help refugees.

“Within a short time of [the refugees] being here, [they] put more money into the economy than they used in their initial resettlement,” said Brittain. “They open businesses, they go to work, they pay taxes, they buy homes.”

Their Impact

Buffalo’s west side and Riverside community are bustling with immigrants and refugees. They remain an integral part of the community.

News 4 spoke with Khin Maung Soe in February. He came to New York City from Burma, before resettling in Buffalo.

In the beginning, Khin and his wife found work washing dishes. A resettlement agency helped pay their rent and the family relied on food stamps to help feed their children.

A little over a year later Khin had saved $10,000 and opened his first store. That same year he purchased a home at a foreclosure auction.

He now owns two businesses and Lin Restaurant in Riverside.

Finding Common Ground

Rubens Mukunzi immigrated to Buffalo from Rwanda in 2013.

In an interview with News 4 reporter Jenn Schanz, the journalist said he wanted to help other immigrants and refugees having the same the problems he was.

Mukunzi started Karibu News which celebrated its one-year anniversary over the summer.

The free biweekly newspaper is published in six languages. It features stories about the issues immigrants and refugees are facing. It also lists helpful resources and offers advice.

An example of one such article is titled “Advice for New Americans: Parking.”

It’s a minor obstacle for immigrants and refugees new to urban living. And a gentle reminder of the every day experiences we all share in the City of Good Neighbors. Many Buffalo drivers will admit they also don’t know the difference between those frustrating No Stopping, No Standing and No Parking signs.

An Uncertain Future

The future of immigration is uncertain under President-elect Donald Trump. It was a hot-button issue during his campaign to win the White House.

Trump promised supporters he would crack down on illegal immigration and pull federal funding from sanctuary communities. He also promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But in the days since the election there are more questions than answers.

Trump unveiled plans for his first 100 days in office, but left out immigration and did not address the crisis in Syria.

But that same day an immigration adviser to Trump may have tipped his hand.

Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach was photographed with a document titled “Department of Homeland Security Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days.”

The document proposed stricter immigration rules — including stopping Syrian refugees from coming into the country and reintroducing a registry for all foreigners from “high-risk” areas.

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