7 Apr 2020

Covid-19: How volunteers are helping refugees in NZ lockdown

From Checkpoint, 5:51 pm on 7 April 2020

There are concerns for refugee families who might not be able to keep up with the rapidly evolving information coming out everyday about Covid-19.

Red Cross Volunteer Dani Mulhern works with Fatima, a refugee from Somalia, who arrived in New Zealand last year.

Dani and another volunteer, Evie Corrigan, would usually meet regularly with Fatima, help her go to appointments, or just be a friendly face in a foreign country.

But during the lockdown, that valuable face-to-face time was no longer possible.

"Normally we would be going to visit her and spend time with her but now that we can't do that because of the lockdown, [we're] just having to do that through the phone ... just touching base as often as possible," she said.

Dani said Fatima seemed to be doing well, with her English teacher making it clear to her what the new rules were.

But Dani is concerned that other refugees are struggling to keep up with messaging from the government and health officials.

On the government's Covid-19 website, basic information about Covid-19 and the alert level system is published in 19 languages, but only some of the daily public briefings are translated.

"I think some more translating could be done for sure. For people who don't have a support group, I would be worried about how many people understand completely what's going on," Dani said.

Red Cross migration general manager Rachel O'Connor said accessing the latest information could be difficult for some of the communities the organisation worked with.

"The first challenge is really around getting access to the information - the situation is changing so quickly," she said. 

"But on the whole it's mostly in English, so if you're not reading or writing in English you're not going to get access to that information."

O'Connor said Red Cross had hired more translators to help with new information that was coming out daily from the government and health authorities.

"Every time an update comes out, we translate it and get it out into the hands of people who need to hear that."

The Red Cross had also ramped up their support of refugee communities so they did not become socially isolated during the lockdown.

"At the moment, we are using all of our refugee programme staff, and we also have a team of well over 1200 volunteers around the country ... every family who has arrived in the last year is getting a phone call each day."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said he was confident that essential information was reaching everyone, but encouraged anyone who felt there were gaps to get in touch.