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Refugees, immigrants touched by community's support at rally

Nadine Yousef appeared genuinely touched Saturday when more than 60 people stopped in front of the West Side Bazaar, where she works, to express support for immigrants and refugees as part of the Western New York Peace Center's Immigrants Solidarity March and Rally.

She gave a shy greeting and offered thanks for the support that she and her family received after coming to Buffalo from Iraq two years ago. Yousef, her husband and four children arrived in Buffalo fearing they would be resented or shunned. But the opposite happened.

"That's amazing when you see all the people around you," she said, after people applauded and cheered her brief remarks. "They like us and support us here."

She spoke to people carrying signs like "Buffalo is better with refugees" and "Negate the hate."

Yousef works seven days a week. Both she and her husband work at Wegmans, then Yousef comes to the West Side Bazaar to tend to her macrame shop, where she sells macrame art, jewelry, hanging planters and clothing.

Nadine Yousef is an Iraqi immigrant who works at the West Side Bazaar and thanked rally participants for making her feel welcome as an immigrant to the country.

Michelle Holler, program manager for the West Side Bazaar, told the crowd, "Thank you for supporting diversity and what makes America beautiful."

The crowd of rally participants walked for an hour and carried signs in the light-but-relentless drizzle. They stopped at the bazaar, which supports immigrant businesses and restaurateurs, then proceeded to Lafayette High School, which has the highest concentration of refugee high school students in the city.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Immigrants Solidarity March]

Bullhorn chants were loud and plenty:

"When our friends and neighbors are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!"

"No wars! No walls! Sanctuary for all!"

At Lafayette High School, former Bhutan refugee Lamin Tamang recounted how he was "kicked out" of his country in 1992 and spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before making his way to Buffalo in 2012. He will graduate shortly with his associate's degree from Erie Community College. He works in the Central Registration Office of the Buffalo Public Schools to assist immigrant families registering their children.

Lamin Tamang, an immigrant from Bhutan, speaks as the Immigrants Solidarity March stops in front of Lafayette High School. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Refugees shouldn't be dismissed as welfare burdens who don't contribute back to the community, he said. They should be embraced as productive citizens.

"We are here to love each other, not hate," he said.

The march and rally, which started with singing and drums at the Massachusetts Avenue playground near Winter Street, ended at Pilgrim-St. Luke's United Church of Christ, a self-declared sanctuary church.

Renee Stith, an Elmwood Village resident unaffiliated with any group, said times are truly tough when introverts like her join a movement. She carried a sign that said, "Make America kind again."

"It's necessary that we show ourselves," she said.

Various community, anti-racism, faith and immigration advocates came together to participate in the afternoon event, one of multiple events planned by the Western New York Peace Center as part of the recurring National Day of Action.

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