Finding Freedom - A Refugees Story: Many Different Ethnicities, Cultures, Nationalities Make Up NYS

A refugee, by the United Nations definition is, someone who is outside of their country of origin, who has had to flee war or persecution on account of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or for belonging to a certain political or social group. There are now more refugees worldwide than there have ever been, and many of them are resettling in Upstate New York. To understand why, Karen Tararache shares, part one of "Finding Freedom - A Refugees Story."

ALBANY, N. Y. -- "We have a long history of welcoming refugees and immigrants into our city," Kathy Sheehan, Albany city mayor said.

We call it the melting pot -- and if you didn't know it, all you'd have to do is just look around.

"We're talking about people who are coming from war torn countries, people who face persecution in their countries, and they're looking for a home," Sheehan said.

So many different ethnicities, cultures and nationalities mixing together in one harmonious concoction. This is New York.  

Since the early 1900s the U. S. has welcomed the poor, tired and huddled masses yearning to be free. And it's that word, "freedom," that has brought in more than 70,000 refugees a year.

"I think 'refugee,' we've heard that word on the radio, maybe I'm just tuned into it, but I feel like more in the last year or so than ever in my lifetime," Jill Peckenpaugh said, the USCRI Albany director. 

According to the Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, New York state resettled a little more than 4,000 refugees in 2014. And, 95 percent of that number found a home in Upstate New York.

"They look for communities that are welcoming, that there's affordable housing, good public schools, ideally good transportation," Peckenpaugh said.

Through Albanys U. S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the families that come are first registered, provided with furnished apartments, given food assistance and health insurance. Then, almost immediately, the search for work begins.

"Around 70 percent in one of our job programs find jobs in the first six months," Peckenpaugh said.

Peckinpaugh adds that refugees and immigrants actually create 1.2 jobs.

"They're eventually buying cars and houses," said Peckenpaugh.

"They also are starting businesses and have been successful in starting businesses so it really does add to economic growth in the city," said Sheehan.

Over the last five years the largest amount of refugees have fled from Iraq and Burma with others coming from Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  

For the past decade, many of their journeys have started at an office in Albany.

"This nation is a great nation because of the diversity that we have, and if we want to continue to be a great nation, we need to make sure that we continue to embrace that diversity," Sheehan said.

For more information on USCRI, click here.

Spectrum customers get full access
to all our video, including our live stream.