Support to overcome language barriers is one of the ways Wellington Catholic Social Services (CSS) are assisting vulnerable and isolated former refugees during the lockdown.
Families and single people who have been settled in New Zealand as former refugees make up around half the CSS social work caseload, and the the CSS social workers have remained in contact with them through the COVID-19 lockdown.
Senior social worker Jess Harward says the lockdown has highlighted their increased vulnerability and isolation. “Language can create a huge barrier to some families, and without the use of an interpreter, they are further isolated,” she says.
CSS funds interpretation services for former refugees. Accessing government and community services during the lockdown is more difficult for people with language barriers, so social workers have been engaged in setting up three-way conference calls with interpreters to enable former refugees to apply for assistance.
This has assisted with arranging health appointments, applying for Work and Income benefits, liaising with school around home learning, organising repeat prescriptions and understanding what services are considered essential.
Social worker Eru Fox says that one of the challenges has been first finding out if former refugees fully comprehend what the COVID-19 lockdown means. One client had been isolated from her family for a month following a common cold, despite a doctor’s appointment clearing her of COVID-19 concerns, due to fears and uncertainty about whether she might infect vulnerable family members.
Eru says just as we cannot see the COVID-19 virus, so too are New Zealanders often unable to see the invisible trauma experienced by many former refugee families who have come seeking sanctuary in Aotearoa New Zealand. “We want our services to be a sanctuary for people to come and feel a sense of security, that they are being looked after.”