Refugees, migrants bounce back during the COVID-19 crisis – survey

Refugees, migrants bounce back during the COVID-19 crisis - survey
Hadi Mohammadi, music therapist

Newly arrived refugees and migrants are now feeling safer, more confident and better informed about life during the COVID-19 pandemic; and they are keen to get back to work, according to a new survey.

A snapshot poll by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia also found new arrivals had high levels of trust in Australian governments’ handling of the crisis and were looking forward to gathering in large groups of family and friends.

However, they were not keen to attend large public events.

An earlier survey carried out in April found migrants and refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds were more worried and felt more vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis than ordinary Australians.

But a follow up survey of the same sample of 130 people from 27 different countries, carried out in the second week of April, found new arrivals feeling more comfortable about the trajectory of the pandemic.

The number of respondents who were confident they could protect themselves from being infected by the COVID-19 virus rose sharply from just 11 per cent in April to 73 per cent in June.

Levels of fear about the effect of the virus have also fallen with just 23 per cent citing a ‘high’ fear, compared to 51 per cent in April.

Of those respondents with jobs, 53 per cent said they feared losing them, compared with 68 per cent in April. And just 49 per cent of people said they feared not being able to pay rent or put food on the table, compared with 66 per cent in April.

How do the refugees feel about government response?

Ninety-six per cent of people said they trusted the government and health authorities to handle the crisis, up from 81 per cent in April; and 83 per cent were confident things would return to normal, compared to 72 per cent in April.

Ninety-four per cent said they felt properly informed about the pandemic, compared to just 71 per cent in April.

Almost nine in ten said they were receiving and understanding government and health authority messaging and advice, compared to just 67 per cent in April.

Of those struggling to receive advice, language remained the main barrier – cited by 63 per cent.

Australian media had surged as the main source of information on the pandemic for migrants – up to 51 per cent from just 29 per cent in April.

Media from a person’s home country had fallen as a source of information from 12 per cent in April to just 8 per cent in June.

The internet and social media were cited by 24 per cent and 17 per cent of respondents respectively, down from 33 per cent and 26 per cent in April.

Levels of compliance with health advice among new arrivals remained high with 80 per cent of respondents remaining at home, 94 per cent saying they were maintaining social distancing and 91 per cent practicing hygiene measures.

With the start of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, newly arrived people are more likely to want to return to their workplaces, gather with friends or family but less likely to attend large public events than the general population.

Four in five (81 per cent) of respondents said they were looking forward to large gatherings of family and friends or dining at cafes and restaurants, compared to 60 per cent of all Australians.

But 84 per cent said they would not attend large public gatherings, compared with 76 per cent of all Australians.

Eighty-eight per cent said they were looking forward to returning to workplaces, compared to 86 per cent of all Australians.

AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth said the two surveys showed that migrants and refugees were keen to do the right thing by society in the face of serious crisis but also they were among the most vulnerable to its negative impacts.

“It’s clear that people who are newly arrived to this country want to make a contribution by complying with the social distancing and health advice. Indeed, many are working on the frontlines of the fight against the crisis in aged care facilities and hospitals,” Ms Scarth said.

“But it is also clear from the data in the survey that they are among the people who are most exposed to the negative health and financial impacts the pandemic is having,” she said.

“But we are also seeing optimism in the data, which is not surprising to us. In our work with refugees and migrants we are always seeing the resilient and positive natures of people who are setting out to build new lives for themselves,” Ms Scarth said.

Iranian refugee Hadi Mohammadi is working on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 as a music therapist in a nursing home in Melbourne’s north.

Mr Mohammadi says he was initially worried about the health impacts of the virus on his family and his children’s education but he has been impressed by Australia’s response to the crisis.

“It was a very worrying time for everyone. We didn’t know what is going to happen. But Australia has done very well compared to other countries with so few deaths and numbers of infections,” Mr Mohammadi said.

“In my country things are very different, many people are dying and the situation is very bad,” he said.

“If we stick together and all do what the government is asking, things will get better. I feel lucky to be in Australia,” Mr Mohammadi said.