Challenges in Serving Our Clients

Lida P.

I am a caseworker at a refugee resettlement agency in Cleveland, Ohio, and I work with new refugees on a daily basis. I have seen first-hand the difficulties the pandemic has brought to refugees, and how to navigate these challenges.

Digital literacy has been the biggest barrier to our clients being able to accomplish all the usual aspects of social integration as new Americans. Parents in the refugee community are confounded by the idea of remote learning and it has presented countless issues in their children’s education. English classes for those who need them the most are not being offered remotely, and even if they were, most refugees do not have the technological skills to be able to participate.

Another challenge brought about by the pandemic is the overall delays in the benefits process. The process was already very slow, and this has made it much worse, leaving our clients without benefits that they desperately need.

The pandemic as a whole has affected our clients at US Together in all the same ways it is affecting other Americans with the additional struggles brought on by digital literacy issues and low English-speaking proficiencies. Another aspect affecting refugees in a slightly different way than other Americans is that the isolation brought about by social distancing recommendations and lock-down mandates has created barriers or our clients to successfully integrate into their new communities.

However, the pandemic is bringing refugee resettlement agencies together in a way that didn’t seem possible before. We all have one goal – do what is best for the client. This new attitude has opened previously closed lines of communication and cooperation not only between resettlement agencies, but also supporting organizations in the community.

A negative effect of the pandemic is the move to telemed doctor visits rather than in person visits. Many aspects of the in-person visit – interpretation, human contact, visual confirmation, etc. are much more difficult through this method. Myself and US Together’s other case manager are concerned something that would be easily discovered in person could be missed over the phone. Not to mention the difficulties our clients have with video calls.

As a case manager, 2020 and the pandemic has dramatically affected the work I do. It has turned everything on its ear. It is incredibly difficult to build rapport, and trust with clients. It makes all aspects of service delivery harder. When you can't meet in person, most tasks take at least twice as long. When you do meet in person, it adds an extra level of stress about exposing yourself and others to the virus as well as the risk of spreading it. We used to be able to handle issues with the county in person, but now that option has been removed, hence the issues being worse than before; we lost an additional resource in handling these problems simply by having to do everything virtually.

On a positive note, we have been able to recognize the need for additional digital literacy training and how this may have been hampering integration efforts in the past. It has given us a clearer view of what will help our clients succeed in employment, ESL programs, and education.

The needs of the refugee community this year tend to be the same, but are magnified by the challenges presented by the pandemic: access to jobs that pay livable wages, affordable housing, access to additional food resources, being able to connect with schools and advocate for their children, access to ESL for adults - especially low proficiency or preliterate individuals, just to name a few.

Looking forward to 2021 we are hopeful the vaccines and administration change will have huge positive impacts. Even if the virus continues to be an issue, now that we have almost an entire year of experience dealing with the challenges the pandemic presents, we at least feel more capable to handle whatever may come. We are also looking forward to more arrivals in 2021 and helping as many refugees as we can, get settled in Cleveland.

This story is part of a Refugee Communities collection.