BUFFALO, N.Y. – For decades, Buffalo’s population
has shrunk. But the city’s number of immigrants and refugees
are on the rise.
With the sudden population surge come a host of problems. The
University at Buffalo will tackle these issues through the
Immigrant and Refugee Research Institute (IRRI), a new institute
under the School of Social Work and Buffalo Center for Social
IRRI will work to improve the lives of immigrants and refugees
in Western New York through research on issues involving the
welfare of newcomers. The institute will also offer support to
newcomer students and provide research data to local
“I think there’s power in bringing people
together,” says Hilary Weaver, IRRI co-director and associate
professor in the School of Social Work. “We envision IRRI as
an umbrella where scholars, community members and people from
various human services can gather together around research and
service needs. We will be the bridge between the university and the
Immigrants and refugees are the only growing segment of the
Buffalo population. Ten years ago, one might have found three
Burmese people in Buffalo. That number has ballooned to 8,000
people, says Weaver.
Refugees are placed in U.S. cities based on which have the
available infrastructure to support new residents. Buffalo, says
Weaver, is an ideal location for newcomers due to the city’s
ample stock of homes – particularly in the city’s West
Side – and numerous supportive social agencies.
Wooksoo Kim, also IRRI co-director and associate professor in
the School of Social Work, adds that increasingly stringent
immigration policies in Canada have closed the nation for some
newcomers, leaving Buffalo as a close alternative.
However, Kim believes that the boom in immigrant and refugee
populations is an opportunity for Buffalo. Kim and Weaver look to
the city of Utica as a model for economic resurgence through
“Refugees who found their home in Buffalo are a valuable
asset to the city,” says Kim. “In order to help them
realize their economic and cultural potentials, we must be clear in
our commitment to these people. Research is an essential tool to
guide such actions.”
To learn more about IRRI, visit socialwork.buffalo.edu/social-research/institutes-centers/.