Refugee Health During COVID-19
Healthcare was a significant concern for people with refugee experience during the pandemic. A study of Syrian refugees in Montreal found that 46.5% of participants identified medical care as their top concern. Some participants reported concern over their difficulties caring for extended family members who were sick or needed care. Healthcare concerns stemmed from the inaccessibility of services due to the closure of clinics, changes in how services were delivered, and a lack of referrals to needed services.
In the same Montreal study, over half of the participants (51%) reported having difficulties with their mental health. Refugees may experience a double trauma as the limited mobility and lockdown orders remind them of pre-migration adversities and challenges. Furthermore, increased social isolation for children negatively affects their new friendships.
In terms of service provision, virtual mental health sessions made it more difficult for service providers to maintain privacy and establish trust with refugee children and caregivers. Longer wait times for mental health services increased feelings of isolation.
“[I]t started to get lonely because I didn’t have that much friends at the time, I wasn’t that social before. So, the whole time I would just think about it, oh I wish I knew more friends” – Hala Younis, The Refuge: COVID-19 – Refugee Families’ Challenges and Resilience
COVID-19 Awareness and Response
The majority of Syrian refugees in the Montreal study were aware of COVID-19 and were well informed about the dangers and repercussions for their health. While their sources of information were mainly from social media (83%), conversations with family and friends (78%) and online news sources (75%), participants were critical of these sources and were aware that not all sources should be trusted equally. They indicated greater trust in the information provided by government entities (52% of participants strongly agreed to trusting the information provided by the government and public health officials and 39% agreed to some extent). Settlement service organizations were not a significant source of information and resources for participants, likely because they had all been in Canada for more than one year, beyond the period of intense support services offered to resettled refugees. This indicates that this group may be more likely to fall through the cracks.
There was very strong adherence to public health guidelines by participants. A significant majority (94%) indicated that they had made changes to their lifestyle and daily activities. The vast majority indicated more hand washing and cleaning (93%), avoiding social meetings and gatherings (89%), and avoiding people they did not live with (79%). Over half (57%) indicated that they had stocked up on food and supplies. Only a small percentage (11%) noted that they worked from home to reduce exposure; it is possible this was not an option for many participants.