Finding true safety and refuge to build a life in Buffalo

January 23, 2021
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Kuresha Noor’s life appeared to be in a good place.

She had a job working with refugees, and she could relate to their aspirations and fears, because she, too, had come to Buffalo to seek refuge. After a long journey here, fleeing her home country of Somalia and spending several years in a Ugandan refugee camp, Noor had a career, a home, a direction. She spoke with a sense of resolve and carried herself with a sturdy posture that rarely betrayed the trauma she had absorbed in nearly three decades of life.

One day at the office, Noor and a coworker were chatting about home and life, and her colleague remarked, “Oh, you’re here with your husband and son.” She meant it as a good thing, as if to say, “How nice it is that you have a support system in place.”

But Noor didn’t simply nod politely at the reference to her husband and son on this particular day . Instead, she gave an offhand and honest answer: “I wouldn’t say I’m lucky.”

That remark resonated. A couple of days later, as Noor recalls, that same coworker came to her and said, “Kuresha, I don’t want to budge into your personal life, but can I just speak with you for a minute, maybe?”

That simple ask was the start of Noor getting the help she needed to finally, truly make Buffalo not just a place of refuge, but something she actually wanted it to be: a happy home.

Noor, who is 33 and holds a green card, is one of about 66,000 foreign-born people living in Erie County. That includes immigrants who came here for economic purposes, and refugees like Noor, who were escaping danger and instability elsewhere in the world. The number of refugee admissions in Buffalo and across the United States has plummeted under President Trump: In 2019, according to State Department numbers, 474 people came to Buffalo through the federal refugee resettlement program. That’s down from 1,929 in 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration. Those numbers are likely to rise again under the Biden administration.

Successfully resettling refugees, which in Western New York is coordinated by a small group of local agencies, requires a complex set of community interactions. It involves securing housing, education – often including language skills and job training – employment and health care. Making blanket statements on refugees’ challenges is difficult, since they are individuals with specific needs and who come from distinct cultures. But all refugees need personal support, often in the form of mental health care. The trauma they face in leaving their own country, taking an often-arduous journey here, and the stress of resettling and often reinventing their lives imposes a mental and emotional toll. Add to that the long-term damage of the toxic stress they often experienced in their home country – wars, violence, famine, natural disaster, political instability – and many are in need of healing.

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