Ensuring Refugee Health and Wellbeing

Buffalo String Works performance at the Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit.

Buffalo String Works performance at the Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2021), in 2020 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide due to conflict and war, human rights violations, persecution, violence and/or events such as climate change that disturb the public order. This number more than doubled from ten years ago, and includes 48 million internally displaced persons (IDP), 26.4 million refugees, and 4.1 million asylum seekers. Importantly, 35 million displaced persons are children and one million children were born as refugees. Finally, almost three-quarters of all displaced persons originate from five countries – Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Venezuela, and 39% are hosted by Columbia, Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, and Uganda.

These numbers are staggering, and are tied to the structural legacy of colonialism and the social, economic, and political conditions of a neoliberal present. When considering the human experience of forcible movement, pre-movement experiences and resettlement processes are fraught with challenges for adults, and the increased likelihood of exploitation, abuse, and rights violations for children and youth. In the United States, refugees who transition to existent systems face a range of social and public health inequities including, but not limited to normatively held biases about refugees and discourses of fear that negatively affect community perspectives about displaced persons, as well as system-based language, cultural, and educational barriers. Furthermore, U.S. systems and practitioners struggle to balance an asset-based stance toward displaced persons, which is mindful of the rich history, traditions, and talents brought to the host nation, with that of the social, emotional, mental, and physical traumas carried by refugees.

Forcible displacement is not a uniform experience and refugees comprise a heterogenous, non-monolithic group. Though spatialized displacement typically is thought of as patterns involving movement from the Global South to the Global North, thereby implicating northern nation-states and private capital in these processes, we also acknowledge that Global South is indicative of additional contexts, including those within the U.S. that lack financial and infrastructural resources, have heightened rates of racialized violence, and endure other spatialized forms of inequality. At a basic human rights level, providing access to food, water, safety, and shelter is critical to the welfare of refugees and other spatially displaced persons. Additionally, it is essential that resettlement processes involving education, healthcare, housing, legal systems, and work placement are grounded in asset-based, culturally and linguistically responsive, and trauma-informed practices that aim to improve overall health, flourishing, and well-being.

To support this vision, the Community for Health in Global Health Equity Big Ideas Team on Refugee Health and Well-being brings together scholarly and practitioner expertise from architecture, education, the humanities, law, medicine, nursing, pediatrics, public health, social work, urban planning and other disciplines. To support the needs of those resettled in Western New York, and the Buffalo community in particular, through public engagement and university events, we are intentional in our aim to join activists, clinicians, community partners, refugees, and scholars who want to engage in the ethical, co-production of knowledge and resources critical to fostering refugee health and well-being.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2021). Refugee data finder. https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/

By Melinda Lemke, PhD and Kafuli Agbemenu PhD, RN – Big Ideas Team Co-Leads

Our Working Solutions

Lin Research Group.

Lin Research Group

  • 9/28/21
    From 2003 to 2014, Erie County's four resettlement agencies resettled 9,723 refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Burma, Bhutan, and now Syria. Refugees receive resettlement support for three months time but, post-resettlement, face barriers to good health and well-being due to limited english proficiency coupled with a scarcity of interpreters and translators, mental health issues related to trauma and torture, lack of transportation, and a derth of culturally-engaged health professionals, pharmacists, and emergency care providers.
  • 7/6/20
    Today, continued conflict in South Sudan has forced over 1,291,294 people to seek refuge in neighboring countries, like Uganda, making Uganda the largest refugee settlement in the world.  Despite the Democratic Republic of Congo's slow recovery from a nearly decade long war, many areas are still plagued by violence and displacement. 

In the News

Policy Briefs

Articles and Reflections

Faculty Fellows

Kafuli Agbemenu

Co-Lead, Refugee Health and Wellbeing team; Project Lead, Reproductive Health Decision-Making; Assistant Professor

School of Nursing

201 D Wende Hall

Phone: Phone: 716-829-6023

Email: agbemenu@buffalo.edu

Melinda Lemke

Co-Lead, Refugee Health and Wellbeing team; Assistant Professor

Educational Leadership and Policy

470 Baldy Hall

Phone: 716-645-1090

Email: malemke@buffalo.edu

James Bono

Associate Professor and Faculty Emeritus, Medicine and History

Department of History

546 Park Hall

Phone: 716-645-2181 x553

Email: hischaos@buffalo.edu

Colleen Culleton

Associate Professor of Spanish

Romance Languages and Literatures

910 Clemens

Phone: 716-645-0861

Email: culleton@buffalo.edu

Roberto Diaz Del Carpio

Clinical Assistant Professor

Department of Medicine

Hertel Elmwood Internal Medicine Center 900 Hertel Ave. Buffalo, NY 14216

Phone: 716-871-1571

Email: rod2@buffalo.edu

Thomas Feeley


Department of Communication

354 Baldy Hall

Phone: 716-645-1160

Email: thfeeley@buffalo.edu

Joe Gambacorta .

Joseph Gambacorta

Assistant Dean, Clinical Affairs

School of Dental Medicine

325 Squire Hall

Phone: 716-829-2836

Email: jeg9@buffalo.edu

Kim Griswold

Project Lead, Standardized Patient Project; Professor

Department of Family Medicine

77 Goodell Street, Suite 220U

Phone: 716-816-7247

Email: griswol@buffalo.edu

James N. Jensen

Professor; Director of Undergraduate Studies, Environmental Engineering

Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

232 Jarvis Hall

Phone: 716-645-4007

Email: jjensen@buffalo.edu


Alex Judelsohn

Programs Manager

Global Health Equity

Isok Kim

Associate Professor

School of Social Work

667 Baldy Hall

Phone: 716-645-1252

Email: isokkim@buffalo.edu

Wooksoo Kim

Associate Professor

School of Social Work

685 Baldy Hall

Phone: 716-645-1227

Email: wkim5@buffalo.edu

Li Lin

Founding Co-lead, Community for Global Health Equity; Professor

Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering

412 Bell Hall Buffalo

Phone: 716-645-4713

Email: indlin@buffalo.edu

Christopher Lowry

Assistant Professor


413 Cooke Hall

Phone: 716-645-4266

Email: cslowry@buffalo.edu

Shaanta Murshid

Co-Lead, Global Child team; Associate Professor

School of Social Work

Baldy Hall

Phone: 716-645-3381

Email: nadinemu@buffalo.edu

Heather Orom

Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

Department of Community Health and Health Behavior

304 Kimball Tower Buffalo, NY 14214

Phone: 716-829-6682; Fax: 716-829-6040

Email: horom@buffalo.edu

Erkin Ozay

Assistant Professor

Department of Architecture

Hayes B 06C

Phone: 716-829-6912

Email: eozay@buffalo.edu

Gina Prescott

Clinical Assistant Professor

Department of Pharmacy

215 Kapoor (John) Hall

Phone: 716-645-2828

Email: gmzurick@buffalo.edu

Samina Raja

Co-Director and Founding Co-Lead, Community for Global Health Equity; Co-Lead, Food Equity Team; Project Lead, Plan REFUGE; Professor

Urban and Regional Planning

233C Hayes Hall

Phone: 716-829-5881

Email: sraja@buffalo.edu

Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah

Clinical Assistant Professor

Organization and Human Resources

251 Jacobs Management Center

Phone: 716-645-3234

Email: dasamoah@buffalo.edu

Jessica Scates

Coordinator of Diversity Initiatives

School of Dental Medicine

220 Hayes Hall

Phone: 716-829-5371

Email: jmscates@buffalo.edu

John Stone

Clinical Associate Professor

Department of Rehabilitation Science

416 Kimball Tower

Phone: 716-829-6739

Email: jstone@buffalo.edu

Kory Smith

Founding Co-Lead, Community for Global Health Equity; Professor and Chair

Department of Architecture

Phone: 716-575-2874

Email: khsmith@buffalo.edu

Edward Steinfeld

SUNY Distinguished Professor

Department of Architecture

382 Hayes Hall

Phone: 716-829-5899

Email: arced@buffalo.edu

Lisa Vahapoğlu

Volunteer Team Member

Community for Global Health Equity

Karen Zinnerstrom

Coordinator for Training and Evaluation

Clinical Competency Center

211 Cary Hall

Phone: 716-829-3455

Email: khz@buffalo.edu


Biplab Bhattacharya in Uganda.

Biplab Bhattacharya, PhD

UB Alumnus; Former Graduate Assistant

Industrial and Systems Engineering and Community for Global Health Equity

Sadi Dhakhwa

UB Alumna

M. Architecture

Ryan Frederiks

UB Alumna

MS. Geology

Nicole Little.

Nicole Little

UB Alumna; Former Graduate Assistant

MArch, MUP

Danielle Vasquez.

Danielle Vasquez

Graduate Student

Management and Public Health and Health Professions

Our work is done in collaboration with many talented community partners. We list these partners on the affiliated project pages.