Published January 14, 2016
Global issues about refugees and migrants — and Buffalo and UB’s reputation for working well with the refugee population — were highlighted earlier this week as the city hosted a press tour of foreign journalists titled “How the City of Good Neighbors Embraces Refugees.”
Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the tour brought more than a dozen journalists from eight countries to Buffalo to learn more about the city, which the State Department describes as “one of the top resettlement sites for refugees in the United States, resettling about 1,500 refugees annually.”
On Wednesday morning, the School of Social Work’s Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute (IRRI) hosted the journalists for a discussion with UB faculty active in the Community of Excellence on Global Health Equity.
“Buffalo is a community that has really gotten it right with refugees,” Kim Griswold told the group. Griswold, associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has worked with Buffalo’s refugees for decades. She currently serves as medical director of the Western New York Center for Survivors of Refugee Trauma and Torture.
Griswold noted that the university’s commitment to the issue was reflected in its decision last year to fund a Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity, which brings scholars together throughout the university to address global health disparities both around the world and at home. Among refugees, she said, one of the key issues is identifying and removing barriers to health care after they have been resettled.
In partnership with the Global Health Equity group, a current interest of IRRI researchers is to explore what kinds of barriers to health care exist in Buffalo for refugees from Burma. They also are interested in collaborating with the Erie County Department of Social Services to characterize the refugee population in the county.
The Global Health Equity group is not driven solely by the research needs of its faculty, Isok Kim, assistant professor of social work, told the journalists. Its advisory board, which determines what projects the group will pursue, consists of leaders from the refugee communities and community service providers, as well as UB faculty.
The result is that instead of doing what some refer to as “helicopter research” — where the researcher goes into a group, gets the desired data and then leaves — faculty in the Global Health Equity group work alongside the refugees while gathering data.
“We want to provide a meeting place, a hub,” said Wooksoo Kim, associate professor of social work. “We were pulled into the needs of the refugee population; we are building a connection with the community.” Kim co- directs IRRI with Hilary Weaver, professor of social work and associate dean for academic affairs.
The journalists were especially interested in the difficulties faculty said they faced in gathering data on refugees. This is because in the U.S., the faculty said, different government and social welfare agencies tend to keep different types of data on individuals. For example, medical records require simple ethnic categorization, such as “Asian” or “Hispanic” and often do not include whether or not an individual has recently entered the U.S. or his or her country of origin.
“There’s a disconnect between those who collect the data and the people who want to use them,” explained Weaver. “There are pockets of data from federal, state and local agencies.”
Buffalo, for example, has four different resettlement agencies. “Our goal is to put the pieces together,” she said.
In addition to their stop at UB, the journalists also visited Buffalo’s four resettlement agencies: Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, the International Institute of Buffalo and Journey’s End Refugee Services. In addition, they met with Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, had lunch at the West Side Bazaar, met with officials of the Westminster Economic Development Initiative and visited P.S. 45, International School.
The journalists, all based in Washington, D.C., or New York City, were reporting for such media outlets as RT, Al Jazeera and the Korean Broadcasting System, and were representing media in the UK, China, Norway, the Ukraine, Hong Kong, Korea, India, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
I enjoyed reading and seeing the story regarding the visit of foreign journalists to the Buffalo area, including UB and some of its facilities. However, the largest population of refugees who attend a program sponsored by UB are downtown at the Educational Opportunity Center on Ellicott Street.
It would have been an occasion for students who represent the community of refugees in Western New York to also meet international reporters. I wonder why this venue wasn't included in their busy schedule.