Assemblymember Rivera and Senator Ryan Join WNYRAC Agencies for Welcome Week 2021

National initiative celebrates the positive impacts of immigrants and refugees within the communities that offer them a new home

Buffalo – Today, Sept. 16, 2021, New York State Senator Sean Ryan and Assemblymember Jon Rivera gathered at the International Institute of Buffalo to provide an update on refugee resettlement progress and to announce the area’s participation in Welcoming Week, a national initiative that celebrates communities striving to be more welcoming places for all, including immigrants. By fostering mutual respect and cooperation between residents of all backgrounds, Welcoming Week aims to bring diverse peoples together.

Ryan and Rivera were joined by representatives from Catholic Charities of Buffalo, The International Institute of Buffalo, Jewish Family Services of Western New York, Journey’s End Refugee Services, and Jericho Road Community Health Center.

Welcoming Week 2021 (Sept. 10-19) arrives at a critical juncture in the nation’s historical record of immigrant relations and resettlement. While the journey of an immigrant or refugee is frequently filled with a litany of travails, the geopolitical ramifications of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan has created an influx of Afghani evacuees seeking safe passage and harbor in the U.S.

Buffalo and its many agencies committed to the successful integration of immigrants are hard at work progressing the city’s national recognition as a welcoming community for people fleeing violence, oppression, and poverty.

Currently, it is estimated that up to 80% of the arriving Afghani evacuees are being admitted as Humanitarian Parolees (evacuees), not as refugees. Unlike refugees, asylees, and special immigrant visa holders, these evacuees will not be given access to services and programs funded by the U.S. government.

As a result, WNYRAC is organizing an online and in-person community-based campaign to ensure that their basic needs are met, including housing, health care and nutrition, enrolling children in school, providing financial assistance until work authorization is granted, and more. The effort – Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees – is an initiative working to raise $750,000 to help Afghan evacuees with the cost of living.

The International Institute of Buffalo recently noted that already, more than $60,000 in individual donations have flowed in as a result of the Buffalo community’s generosity, as well as several pledged institutional gifts, and hundreds of inquiries about volunteering and donating goods. 

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Recent census data revealed that Buffalo’s population has grown for the first time since the 1950 census, with refugees and immigrants contributing in large part to that growth. Buffalo’s population has grown to 278,349 people – an increase of more than 17,000, or 6.5%.

Erie County has also seen growth in the last decade, increasing to 954,236 – an increase of more than 35,000, or 3.8%. The population growth among refugees and immigrants has helped to boost the regional economy and prepare Buffalo and Western New York for future growth as the nation continues to diversify.

More than 90% of refugees coming into New York settle in Upstate communities. Since 2002, more than 16,000 refugees have come to the City of Buffalo, with thousands more settling in places such as Utica, Syracuse, and Rochester. Refugees have helped to stem population losses in Upstate New York communities, and have contributed to economic growth by opening small businesses and employing local workers.

State funding for refugee resettlement programs allows agencies to assist with long-term refugee integration, helping ensure refugee families in New York have access to safe housing and proper support to integrate them into society.

In April, Assemblymember Rivera and Sen. Ryan announced that the state budget for FY 2021-2022 included $3 million in funding for refugee resettlement agencies through the New York State Enhanced Services to Refugees Program (NYSESRP). This funding is $2 million more than last year’s allocation of $1 million for the program. The Enhanced Services to Refugees Program provides enhanced services so that refugees can successfully integrate into local communities. The program was started in 2017 as a response to the federal government’s retreat from refugee resettlement.

Since 2017, the program has provided $10 million to support the work done by New York’s refugee resettlement agencies, helping provide essential services such as housing, job training, and childcare. An additional $1.8 billion in recent federal funding is helping community health centers like Jericho Road support immigrants and refugees as they rebuild their lives in the United States.

Senator Sean Ryan said, “Welcoming Week 2021 underscores the important and critical work of all who play a part in ensuring refugees coming to our nation and city have the resources they need. With the end of the war in Afghanistan and many Afghan allies on their way to the United States, it is pivotal that we here in Buffalo are doing all we can to make sure this is a welcoming and safe place. We know that when these New Buffalonians are in a position to succeed, their prosperity benefits our city. Our world-class resettlement agencies are ready, our state is ready, and our city is ready to welcome Afghans and all refugees to their new home.”

Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera said, “At a time in which a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, Buffalonians have once again shown their innate ability to step up and deliver the critical services necessary to resettling and re-integrating refugees into a diverse set of communities who are ready to welcome them with open arms. This year, Welcoming Week bears an added immediacy, as we work to provide comfort to many immigrants who find themselves in their greatest time of need.”

Anna Mongo, Chief Program Officer at Jericho Road said, “We are proud to be part of a community and a state with a long tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees from around the world. The name of our organization, Jericho Road, was chosen as a constant reminder of the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man traveling on a dangerous road stops to help a stranger in trouble. The story challenges us to ask not 'What will happen to me if I stop to help those in danger?' but rather, 'What will happen to them if I do not stop?' Welcoming Week is a great opportunity for us to all recommit ourselves to helping the stranger and, in so doing, transform strangers into neighbors.”

Molly S. Carr, Ph.D., CEO of Jewish Family Services of WNY said, “This year’s Welcoming Week is timely given the anticipated arrival of so many Afghan refugees. We are working hard to plan for them and continue to welcome refugees from so many other parts of the world at the same time. We are thankful for our partners in government and throughout the resettlement community here in Buffalo, but we are most thankful for the Western New York community, their welcoming nature and their support of everything that we are doing for these individuals in need.” 

Karen Andolina Scott, Executive Director at Journey’s End Refugee Services said, “Welcoming Week is a celebration of newcomers to the United States and an acknowledgement of all the contributions they make to our communities. We are fortunate to live in Buffalo, the City of Good Neighbors, one of the only cities in America to have four refugee resettlement agencies and one of the top ten cities in terms of number of refugees resettled since 2002. By welcoming newcomers from all over the world, we build more inclusive communities that are culturally and economically dynamic. This results in prosperity for all Western New Yorkers.”

Deacon Steve Schumer, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, said, “Western New York is a welcoming community to immigrants and refugees and we have proven that for more than 100 years. Now, our neighbors are stepping up through their response to the Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees effort – from hundreds of in-kind donations, many offers of volunteer support and impressively more than $60,000 in individual donations for which we are so very grateful. We are also grateful for our partners in state government and look forward to continued collaborative work.”

Jenny Rizzo-Choi, Interim Executive Director at the International Institute of Buffalo said, “We continue to be amazed by this community. In the two weeks since the Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees campaign was announced, we have seen a truly overwhelming outpouring of support on behalf of Afghan evacuees. We have received over $60,000 in individual donations, several pledged institutional gifts, and hundreds of inquiries about volunteer opportunities and donations of goods. We are so grateful to those who have stepped forward to make contributions. We are also grateful to our partner WNYRAC agencies for their collaboration and creativity as we address these new challenges and for our partners in state government whose leadership ensures that upstate cities, like Buffalo, are prepared to welcome refugees into our communities.”