Refugee landings during Covid-19: Finally increasing but challenges remain

Among its many other impacts, the pandemic halted the arrival of refugees in Canada and prompted concerns about additional risks to refugees in camps and other vulnerable spaces. In 2020, we welcomed only 67 Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) in Saskatoon—down from 229 the prior year. When GARs arrive to Saskatoon, staff in several specialized programs, including Providing Access to Healthcare (PATH), Enhanced Lifeskills, and Case Management provide hands-on support to help these newcomers overcome barriers and access important services.  

There is some good news: as of May, there has been an increase in the number of individuals and families arriving to our city. As of July, we have already welcomed 41 GARs from countries like Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Myanmar. While clients have come from Myanmar in the past, this is the first time we are receiving Rohingya people as refugees. One challenge we are currently working on at GGP is finding Rohingya-speaking interpreters.  

Once refugees are landed, Covid-19 continues to slow and complicate settlement matters. The initial isolation period along with Covid-19 testing delays creates a two week or more waiting period to meaningfully start settlement processes. GGP staff communicate with clients by video or phone as much as possible, working through tech access and literacy barriers. For those with urgent medical issues, we strive to prevent the need for emergency care by setting up phone consultations and communicating with our Refugee Engagement and Community Health (REACH) Clinic partners.  

Another refugee health challenge presented by Covid-19 is a lack of general practitioners taking new patients. Under normal circumstances, when refugees arrive to Canada they receive care at the REACH Clinic for one year. By the end of the year, GGP usually finds the client a doctor in the community that matches their needs. This past year, there were no doctors taking new patients, so REACH couldn’t transition any refugee patients out. So, although new arrival numbers were down, the case load at the REACH Clinic ballooned. In particular, clients with high needs require an extended length of care as it hasn’t been possible for them to get the support they need elsewhere.  

“Our REACH doctors are absolutely amazing,” says Satanai Durrah, a Case Coordinator at GGP. “They work above and beyond to make sure clients’ needs are met. They want to know any questions, problems, or client concerns, at any time of day. They make themselves very available to ensure special healthcare needs are taken care of.”  

On behalf of GGP staff and clients, we want to give a huge THANK YOU to the REACH Clinic team! 

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