Burma to Buffalo; What’s the draw for thousands of refugees ?

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- In the past two years, nearly three thousand refugees from Burma have settled in Buffalo.

Buffalo is getting more refugees from the war torn Myanmar region than from any other country lately, and one man’s success story gives some insight into how the trail leads here.

Khin Maung Soe owns two Buffalo stores and Lin Restaurant in Riverside, but he came here with nothing. In 2008, a resettlement program brought him from his homeland in Burma to New York City, where he started as a dishwasher, but within weeks it was clear he couldn’t pay the rents in the Big Apple. That’s when he heard from a friend about the rents in Buffalo. “Around $400, $375, you can survive here “

Khin and his wife found jobs washing dishes in Buffalo. Volunteers with The Hope Refugee Center helped teach him how to speak English on the weekends. The resettlement agency helped him pay his first couple months rent, and food stamps helped him raise his children, but in just over a year, he was able to save $10,000 and open his first store on the West Side.

“I mean it’s a phenomenal achievement that you’re starting at a dishwasher job and can save $10,000 in your first year.” said Anna Ireland of Jericho Road Community Health Center which helps thousands of Burmese refugees.

In 2009, he went to a City Foreclosure auction and bought a home in Riverside for $15,000. In fact thirty people from his home region of Burma now live in Riverside, and many own their homes like him. “Before refugees came to Buffalo, a lot of houses empty. Then the rents were also very cheap. Now, you cannot see empty house in Buffalo. All become new. The empty land they build new house.”

Ireland says The Burmese Community Support on the West Side has helped these refugees with everything from education to healthcare to protecting them from scams in this new culture. “Like what’s the difference between mail that you want to read and junk mail. We actually do quite a bit of helping people understand what’s the mail that you need to read versus not need to read.”

Last year alone, more than thirteen hundred refugees were resettled in Buffalo, about the same number came the year before, and Burma is the most common place they’re coming from because word gets back to the homeland that there are familiar faces here, and a support network to get them started according to Ireland. “For the initial eight to nine months that refugees are in our city, any of the benefits that they receive are actually  reimbursable from the Federal Government to the County, I mean it’s a cost. I don’t want to say that there’s zero cost but much of the cost of the actual benefits themselves are reimbursed to our County so it actually brings Federal money in.”

Did Khin expect to be so successful when he decided to leave his homeland? “Actually, I want to be own company..a businessman is my dream, Yes.”

This is the first year that Erie County is providing $50,000 in funding for Jericho Road Community Health Center, and $30,000 for The Burmese Community Support Center in Buffalo.

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