BUFFALO, N.Y. — Over 90% of refugees coming to New York choose to settle in upstate communities. In fact,16,000 refugees have resettled in Buffalo since 2002 and that number is only expected to grow.
Because of the growing refugee population in Western New York, local refugee agencies, including Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services, Journey's End Refugee Services, and the International Institute of Buffalo are in need of more funding in order to better serve those in need.
This is why New York State Senator Sean Ryan and Assemblymember Jon Rivera petitioned Gov. Kathy Hochul to add more funding to the 2022-2023 state budget.
Which is what she did.
"Governor Hochul understands the importance of refugees in the upstate economy," Ryan says. "We have to hand it to Governor Hochul because she originally put money into the budget to help refugees. And that was the first time that's happened before. Governor Cuomo never did that."
$6 million will go to resettlement agencies through the New York State Enhanced Services To Refugees Program. That's double the amount delivered last year.
Bijoux Bahati is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and resettled first in Burlington, Vermont as a teen with her parents. Behati moved to Buffalo nearly 3 years ago with her husband and two young children.
"My family first left the Congo and went to Tanzania where we lived in a refugee camp for approximately four years before we were resettled in Burlington, Vermont," Behati explains. "Coming to America is a very exciting experience. But the circumstances in which is why people and myself came to America were not fun ones. So we left because of war. And it was exciting to be given an opportunity to resettle and establish ourselves in a new country and start a new life."
Navigating new systems, a new language, and a new community can be an overwhelming and scary process.
Once approved by the United Nations Refugee Agency, most refugees moving to the US only have 90 days to make the most of their resettlement money from the government before it runs out - which is not a lot of time.
"We have to be mindful that trauma is inherently part of the refugee story," Bahati explains. "we have to be mindful of Refugee Resettlement services are very short term, and they are meant to be short term. And they have 90 days to get established. That's not enough for anyone to establish a new life and automatically be comfortable and know how to navigate everything."
Bahati has worked at Jewish Family Services since she moved to Buffalo and says being able to provide people with support, guidance, and resources, as they navigate the resettlement journey, is extremely meaningful to her - first-hand.
As for how much of that funding WNY could see?
"Well, the word is out that buffalo is a very good place to move to," Ryan says. "Buffalo resettles more people than Rochester, Syracuse, or Utica. So we do the funding based on the number of people resettled in previous years. So, you know, we have a benchmark year and we go on that. And each year this funding comes we divvied up based on that formula."