COVID-19 challenges refugees and those helping them to settle

April 12, 2020

By Vancouver Sun |

Even at the best of times, refugees arrive tired, bewildered and, often, traumatized.

But in these worst of times, they are Canada’s most marginalized and most vulnerable.

With no friends, no family, no English or French language skills, and little, if any, cultural knowledge, most of them are dependent on settlement societies and sponsorship groups to help them navigate their new world.

Now, even that world is changing daily with emergency directives that are incomprehensible for many recent arrivals because translation is limited to a few languages and their navigators are practising physical distancing, working from home because they don’t have protective gear.

Refugee settlement has been designated an essential service during the pandemic and Chris Friesen has barely slept in weeks.

As director of settlement services of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. and co-chair of the national COVID response team set up by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, he’s one of many trying to retool services on the fly in a very complex system.

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