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Ceremony marks Buffalo’s progress in serving immigrants, refugees

Mayor Byron W. Brown held a public ceremony on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday to proclaim his administration’s expanding efforts to serve the city’s refugee and immigrant communities, and members of those communities agreed that progress is being made.

While the mayor emphasized the celebratory aspects of Buffalo’s expanding population of foreign-born residents — declaring June Immigrant Heritage Month and announcing events for World Refugee Day on June 20 and 21 — immigrants attending the presentation said they also were hopeful on other fronts.

Daniel Leong, who had led a contingent of Burmese and Karen residents to City Hall last winter seeking more police help in their West Side neighborhoods, said that the burglaries and break-ins that had plagued the community have slowed to a trickle.

“Almost zero now,” Leong said. “We have more to do, but it’s good.”

Since the group met with Common Council members and police representatives in February, the Buffalo Police Department and community organizations have held information sessions on how to improve security to prevent break-ins, how to call police and the best way to get language assistance.

They even brought in banking representatives to help refugees unfamiliar with the financial system learn how to open accounts rather than keeping large amounts of cash in their homes.

Jessica M. Lazarin, the city’s new director of the Office of New Americans, also said Wednesday that the city’s 311 hotline for non-emergency problems, the Call and Resolution Center, will soon be connected with the state New Americans Hotline, so residents have a source for general information and matters regarding their immigrant status. The state hotline provides live assistance in more than 200 languages and will refer local callers to local agencies.

Organizers of World Refugee Day used the occasion to announce the daylong soccer tournament in LaSalle Park on June 20, running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and featuring teams from many different nations. Refugee “Day” is actually a weekend in Buffalo, with the celebration continuing from 3 to 7 p.m. June 21 at School 18, 750 West Ave., with food, dance presentations, awards and music.

In a more serious area, members of the Somali and Congolese community will be presenting cultural training to legal representatives working with the refugee community in a program called “Knowing Our Neighbors” at 12:30 p.m. June 23 in Erie County Family Court. The program is sponsored by the state Unified Court System’s Child Welfare Court Improvement Project.