2023 Highlights Report

Refugee Health During COVID-19

Healthcare Concerns

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.

Mental Health

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.


Wilson-Forsberg and colleagues “Families with Refugee Backgrounds
and Online Schooling during COVID-19″ (2022)

Click to view infographic

Ives and colleagues “COVID-19 and Refugee Families in Montréal” (2022)

Click to view infographic


Nakhaie, R., Ramos, H., Vosoughi, D., & Baghdadi, O. (2022). Mental Health of Newcomer Refugee and Immigrant Youth During COVID-19. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 54(1), 1-28.

COVID-19 and Refugee Families in Montréal: Strategies for Reaching Hard-to-Reach Populations in Health Emergencies

Researchers:  Nicole Ives1, Jill Hanley1, Marjorie Rabiau1, Paula Kline2, Janet Cleveland1, Hend Alqawasma1, Arwa Nofal2, Oula Hajjar1, Lina Abdullah, and Jilefack Amin Ngami1

Affiliations: McGill University1 and Montréal City Mission2

Research Partner: Montréal City Mission

This study used phone interviews with 228 Syrian newcomers in Montreal, Quebec. to learn about the needs and vulnerabilities of Syrian newcomers as well as the strengths and resources they mobilized during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study builds on the Québec segment of a larger longitudinal study which explores the impact of pre- and post-migration conditions, sociodemographic characteristics, and migration pathways on integration and health (including mental health) outcomes for Syrian refugees

Social-Emotional Development in Refugee Children and Families

Researchers: Tina Malti1, Tyler Colasante1, Redab Al-Janaideh1, Mona Aboumrad2, Fariborz Birjandian3, Jill Edgington Kirby3, Sarah Wayland4, Mohammed Aref4, Ali T. Ghouse5, Uzma Qureshi5, Ghazal Jessani6, Danah Elsayed7, Arsim Aliu8, Fariha Ali8, Abdillahi Abdi9, Wahed Al-Jabry9, Yusuf Kfaween10, Laura Rosella1, Maarya Abdulkarim1, Shahd Fulath Khan1, Salwa Yaghi1, Layla Akel1, and Nirma Jbara1.

Affiliations: University of Toronto1, University of Calgary2, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society3, Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council4, Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton5, McMaster University6, University of Guelp7, YMCA of Hamilton, Burlington, and Brantford8, Hamilton Downtown mosque9, Hamilton Islamic school10

Research Partners: KDE Hub, Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton (MCGH), YMCA of Hamilton, Burlington, and Brantford; Calgary Catholic Immigration Society

This study conducted a needs assessment with Middle Eastern refugee families and service providers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area (GTHA). Refugee strengths and refugee service strengths were identified, highlighting adaptive capacities and points of service that may be leveraged to promote wellbeing and positive resettlement. Based on these findings, a virtual training initiative that supported caregiver and children’s social-emotional development was implemented and evaluated. 26 refugee caregivers of children ages 2-12 and 24 service providers from the GTHA and Calgary, Alberta participated in the training.

Weathering the Storm: How African Families with Refugee Backgrounds Coped with Online Schooling during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 Pandemic

Researchers: Stacey Wilson-Forsberg1, Oliver Masakure1, Jeremy Horne2, Rosemary Kimani-Dupuis1

Affiliations:  Wilfrid Laurier University1, Adventure4Change (A4C)

Research Partners: Adventure4Change (A4C)

This study focused on the experiences and challenges of mothers with refugee backgrounds from the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea) and their adolescent children (ages 12-18) as they attended high school remotely during the global COVID-19 pandemic. In-depth interviews and focus groups were carried out with 10 women and 18 youth residing in Waterloo, Ontario.