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Refugee resettlement to begin in Niagara Falls in 2017

As many as 50 refugees from one of the world's troubled spots are likely to resettle in Niagara Falls next year as Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County expands its services northward.

The U.S. State Department recently approved Jewish Family Service's application to begin refugee resettlement in the Cataract City, said Marlene A. Schillinger, the local group's president and CEO.

Jewish Family Service will be the first refugee resettlement agency working in Niagara Falls, and Schillinger said it makes sense to do so.

"There's capacity for this in Niagara Falls," she said. "There are employment opportunities."

Many refugees who have resettled in Buffalo have taken jobs at the Seneca Niagara Casino, and Jewish Family Service hopes some of the new arrivals who settle in Niagara Falls will do the same.

Jewish Family Service has been working with Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and the Niagara Falls School District to prepare for the refugees' arrival.

"You can't just plop people down there," said Peter Scott, career services program manager at Jewish Family Service, who will supervise the new operation.

And despite fears that refugees from Syria might be a terror threat, "we have not had any pushback from the community," Scott said. "And there's certainly an economic benefit."

Dyster could not be reached for comment, but Schillinger and Scott said the mayor has been supportive, hoping a refugee influx in Niagara Falls could revitalize neighborhoods and stem falling population, just as it has in Buffalo.

Rising housing prices on the West Side of Buffalo have been tied in part to the refugee influx, but they have also made it more difficult for the city's four refugee resettlement agencies to find affordable housing for newcomers. That should be less of a problem in Niagara Falls, long a struggling small city whose population has fallen by half, to less than 50,000, since 1960.

A Jewish Family Service caseworker will be based in Niagara Falls, but otherwise, much remains unknown about how the refugee resettlement effort will work out.

Agency officials still don't know where the refugees will come from, but they hope the newcomers will be from just one country, so that a nascent community support system will develop as soon as they arrive.

Fewer refugees have arrived in America recently from Burma, the destination that has been the source of a majority of Buffalo's refugee influx in the past 15 years. But Burma remains one of the top five home countries for refugees moving to the U.S., along with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq and Somalia.

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