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Town in New York state thrives because of refugees

Reporter: Karina Huber 丨 CCTV.com

11-17-2016 15:19 BJT

Anti-refugee rhetoric was prevalent throughout this year's U.S. election campaign. Many Americans have expressed concern about the economic impact of refugees. But one community in upstate New York has rolled out the welcome mat to refugees, and has become known as "The Town That Loves Refugees". It's also experiencing an economic rebound in part because of its new residents. CCTV's Karina Huber has more.

Every Monday night, dozens of children come to the Karate School Dragon in Utica, New York. They come to learn about a centuries old Asian martial art taught by a Bosnian refugee who fled a civil war in former Yugoslavia. He opened the karate school three months after arriving in Utica 17 years ago, without a bank loan. Today it has more than 150 students.

"Roughly 25 percent of the people living in Utica are refugees. They came primarily from Vietnam, Bosnia, Somalia and Myanmar looking for a better life. But they arrived in a town going through its own hardships. Utica lost about a third of its population when the factories in the area closed. Town officials say the population is now growing and the town's economy is improving thanks in part to its refugees," Karina Huber said.

Robert Palmieri is the city's mayor. He says, like Utica's Italian, Polish and Irish immigrants of generations past, the recent refugee population is highly motivated.

Many of them work at the nearby Chobani factory, America's biggest seller of Greek yogurt. Access to labor has helped it and other companies stay in the area.

They're also starting restaurants, shops and other small businesses and becoming taxpayers and consumers, which is helping to boost the economy.

And they're turning neighborhoods around by buying rundown homes and renovating them. Property values are increasing and the population is growing.

"All of a sudden they're seeing good things happening. People are reinvesting into their neighborhoods. They're saying 'you know what, I've got a great opportunity, I can stay here now," said Robert Palmieri.

Nevertheless, polls show large numbers of Americans are wary of refugees - concerned about their impact on the economy and national security.

Shelly Callahan is the Executive Director at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. She says the worries are misplaced and steeped in a fear of the unknown. "You know this idea of the other, the stranger is frightening so do something to get to know who these people are. A lot of the people here are enormously friendly and really happy to share their culture, their food."

And how does Sulejman, a Muslim, feel about president-elect, Donald Trump, who once vowed to bar Muslims from entering the country but has since softened his stance? "I'm respect this is my president now. It's ok. I'm feeling good because nothing change for me. I'm again hard work."

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