Published July 10, 2014
For decades, Buffalo’s population has shrunk. But now the number of immigrants and refugees in the city is 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 of the School of Social Work and its Buffalo Center for Social Research.
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 also will offer support to newcomer students and provide research data to local organizations.
“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 community.”
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 housing — 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 to some newcomers, leaving Buffalo as a close alternative.
However, Kim believes the boom in the 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 newcomer resettlement.
“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 its website.