Refugees and Immigrants: Buffalo’s Hidden Economy?


Socio-political tensions have caused much of the general American public to doubt the positive impact their foreign-born neighbors have had on their communities. However, refugee and immigrant populations continue to thrive, injecting vivacity into the livelihood of communities all around us. It is thus not so surprising to note that Buffalo, as one of the closest cities to the Atlantic Ocean offering affordable living, is accessible to immigrants. In fact, recent reports, along with personal stories, have illustrated a substantial impact that refugees and immigrants have had on Buffalo’s economy in recent years.

For example, there’s Gysma Kueny, a native of South Sudan, who has been in Buffalo for more than 15 years. Recently, she has been selling styles and creations that reflect her African heritage, such as colorful earrings and rings, jewelry, shea butter, hand soap, and necklaces. Before coming to Buffalo, Kueny was affected by war in South Sudan at a very young age and lost her parents to the conflict when she was 12 years old. After years of living with her grandmother in North Sudan and Egypt, she moved, in search of a better standard of living, to the United States where her sister later joined her two years after.

Kueny now has had enough success since the inception of her business to travel back to her home country to acquire the raw materials used to make her jewelry and products. Additionally, in 2011, she began the South Sudan Gal Project – aimed at providing education to young females from South Sudan who have had scant access to educational opportunities prior to arriving in the United States. She is currently working to raise money to build a school with the subsequent income she earns.

The facts, which show that refugee/immigrant populations are important economically to Buffalo, support stories like hers. In addition to the foreign-born residents making up five percent of the city’s population, refugees and immigrants provided $3.1 billion to the Buffalo economy in 2014 alone. The many organizations in Buffalo (Journey’s End, Catholic Charities, Vive La Casa, WEDI, etc.) provide economic and humanitarian aid that helps produce awe-inspiring stories, like Kueny’s, that bring us back to our human purpose of providing love and care to others as we govern the welfare of our world as its true stewards.

We are left with contemplating, each day, about our own refugee and immigrant friends in Buffalo. Are they not our “hidden economy,” culturally and not just economically, that helps drive the city forward?

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