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Tribes from a divided land settle in Buffalo

Karen (5,500 in Buffalo): Mostly rural subsistence farmers, the Karen are believed to have originated in Mongolia before migrating to what’s now eastern Burma centuries ago. Most of the Karen who remain in Burma are Buddhist, but many who have migrated to refugee camps in Thailand and then Buffalo are Christian, predominantly Baptist.

Karenni (1,200): Related to the Karen and also originating in Mongolia, the Karenni settled just north of the Karen and worked farms in an especially rural, mountainous part of what’s now Burma. Most of the Karenni who have migrated to Buffalo are Christians, with a large number of Catholics. Most came from refugee camps in northwestern Thailand.

Chin and Zomi (800): Emanating from scattered mountain villages in Burma’s west, the Chin (500) and related Zomi (300) people speak languages with more than 40 dialects. Many are Baptist and deeply religious. Many Chin traveled an especially arduous route to freedom, often taking rickety boats to Malaysia where they lived in slums before coming to the United States.

Burmese (300): The ethnic Burmese, or Burman, form the majority in Burma but a minority in Buffalo. Most are Buddhist, and many were political dissidents before opting for political asylum or, more commonly, refugee status. Most traveled to refugee camps in western Thailand before being resettled in the United States.

Other (500): Other ethnicities represented among the refugees are: the Mon, from just west of the Karen homeland; the Rakhine, who once formed a separate Buddhist kingdom in what’s now Burma’s southwest; and the Rohingya, Muslims who fled persecution in Rakhine state and who, like the Chin, travel by boat to Malaysia before moving to America.

Source of population estimates: City of Buffalo Office of New Americans.

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