Who are our refugees?

A look at the refugees settled in Central New York.

Bushra, 19, the millionth Syrian refugee recorded by the United Nations on March 6. (photo via The Guardian)
Bushra, 19, the millionth Syrian refugee recorded by the United Nations on March 6. (photo via The Guardian)

As more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees relocate to escape the escalating conflict in their homeland, according to the United Nations News Service, it raises a question: How many refugees settle in the Central New York?

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According to the United States Census, a total of 73, 293 refugees arrived to the United States in 2010. 21,113 individuals were also granted asylum in 2010. According to a U.S. Census publication published by the American Community Survey, California, New York and New Jersey had the highest foreign-born population in 2010. 1 in 5 residents of New York and New Jersey were foreign-born.

The U.S. Census does not have an option for people to mark themselves as refugees or asylum seekers, choosing instead to work under the umbrella term “foreign-born persons.” A term they define as, “Foreign-born persons include anyone who was not a U.S. Citizen at birth. This includes respondents who indicated they were a U.S. citizen by naturalization or not a U.S. citizen.”

Those born abroad of American parents or born in any U.S. Island Areas are not considered foreign-born by the U.S. Census.

Refugees in Central New York

An examination of the United States Census from 2010 for Oswego, Oneida, Onondaga and Madison counties shows a high level of disparity in foreign-born persons population size.

Onondaga County has the largest foreign-born population, 32,495 out of its total 467,026 according to the 2010 Census. Oneida County comes second with 16,108 persons claiming foreign-born status out of 243,878. Oswego County is third with 2,330 out of 112,109. Madison County comes last with only 1,497 out of a total population of 73,442.

The Census does not offer a comprehensive breakdown of country of origin for foreign-born persons by county.

However, a specialized foundation such as the Asian American Foundation offers insights to the amount of refugees making new lives in Central New York. According to the AAF, Oneida County’s Asian population doubled in size from 3,269 in 2000 to 7,434 in 2010.

A population that includes: Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and “Other Asian,” which includes races such as Burmese and Cambodian. Oneida County has the second largest Burmese population statewide, according to the AAF, largely due to refugee arrivals in the past decade.

Onondaga County’s Asian population increased from 11,035 in 2000 to 16, 875 in 2010. The county has the largest population of Bhutanese in New York, and the second largest Vietnamese population statewide outside of New York City, according to the AAF.

Madison County was not mentioned in the publication. Oswego county was mentioned as one of the 16 counties were overall population declined, but Asian population increased.

Paul Gugel, Director of Adult and Migrant Education at the Oswego County BOCES, says that the low number of refugees resettling in Oswego County is due to the county’s lack of a refugee resettlement program.

How refugees are settled

The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Regugees operates out of the old St. Francis de Sales school in Utica, NY
The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees operates out of the old St. Francis de Sales school in Utica, NY

Oneida and Onondaga County both have multiple organizations that aid in refugee resettlement. “The Utica region has a much higher percentage of refugees because that community has been actively involved with refugee resettlement for many years,” Gugel said, “Other resettlement work has been done in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Binghamton, as well as downstate.”

Non-profit groups, such as Church World Services, the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, aid in the resettlement process for refugees in the United States. One of Oneida County’s largest non-profit resettlement agencies, Utica’s Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, is an affiliate of the USCRI.

[Listen to an 2006 NPR broadcast on refugees relocating to Utica, N.Y.]

According to Thomas Keenan of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, New York does not determine where refugees are resettled. “This is a coordination of efforts on the part of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and International Committee of the Red Cross,” Keenan said.

Christine Getzler Vaughan, Public Affairs Officer of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration says that when a refugee is approved to come to the United States by the Refugee Admissions Program, their case is allocated to one of the nine national non-governmental organization with whom the PRM partners.

Each of the nine has a national network of local affiliate offices, who decides where the refugee is placed based on a variety of factors.

The Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migration, which provides aid and repatriation, local integration and resettlement in the United States for refugees, conducts assessments of the socioeconomic of target cities and states to develop a “placement” score, according to Keenan.

A placement score is derived of information such as: the cost of living, employability, housing, available resources, availability of public benefits and health care, Keenan said.

“While the United States historically had been the world’s most welcoming country in terms of accepting the largest number of refugees, the amount of federal public support that is given to newly arrived refugees is very small,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the Migration Policy Institute.

“They are expected within a few months of their arrival to be self-sufficient. So resettlement agencies look for communities where they think refugees will be able to find jobs where the cost of living is not too high,” Mittelstadt continued.

Are you a refugee? Do you live in an area with a large refugee community? Fill out the form below to tell us your own story below!

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