If you want to see how refugees are changing Buffalo, N.Y., the West Side Bazaar is a good place to start. It’s an incubator for immigrant-owned businesses. And it’s the only place in town where you can eat Ethiopian sponge bread, Burmese noodles and Peruvian chicken at the same table. It’s also a market with clothing and gifts.
“We are like family here,” says Nadeen Yousef, who moved to Buffalo from Iraq last year. “Families from different countries.” Yousef now has a booth at the bazaar, where she sells handmade macramé wall hangings and art.
There’s been a vigorous debate in this country about refugee resettlement, much of it focused on whether Syrian refugees pose a security threat. There’s been less talk about what happens when refugees put down roots in their new country, in places like Buffalo’s west side.
“The presence of foreign-born residents of the city of Buffalo has increased by 95 percent” since 2006, says Mayor Byron Brown. “And that community feels that Buffalo has been a welcoming place.”
Brown isn’t the only one who thinks refugees are one reason the city’s population has stopped falling for the first time in decades.
“They were pretty much the only group that was moving into the west side of Buffalo and taking over those vacant houses and vacant business,” says Denise Beehag, director of refugee and employment services at the International Institute of Buffalo, one of several resettlement agencies in the city. She credits refugees with “changing the overall vibe of the area and making it a more desirable place to live.”