Caring for refugees and newcomers in the post-COVID-19 era

AUTHORS    Neil Arya, Rachel Talavilkar, Mahli Brindamour, Ammar Saad, Med Rashid, Vanessa Reddit, Tim Holland, Vanessa Wright, Carolyn Beukeboom, Annalee Coakley and Kevin Pottie

LOCATION   National


The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified health and social inequities for refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, transient migrant workers, and other newcomers. Refugees and newcomers face front-line exposure risks, difficulties accessing COVID-19 testing, exacerbation of mental health concerns, and challenges accessing health care, social, and settlement supports. Existing guidelines for clinical care of refugees are useful, but creative case-by-case strategies must be employed to overcome additional barriers in the context of COVID-19 and new care environments, such as the need for virtual interpretation and digital literacy skills. Clinicians can address inequities and advocate for improved services in collaboration with community partners.

How does this research apply to my work?

This research includes practical tips from primary care practitioners working with refugees and newcomers:

  • encourage COVID-19 prevention
  • promote access to COVID-19 testing, care and immunization
  • support women, children and families
  • address stress and mental health
  • recognize the potential, but also the limitations, of virtual care with refugees
  • stay alert to particular social needs and advocate for individual needs and system-level change
  • encourage return to community and resettlement programs

What should I take away from this research?

  • Layered onto pre-existing trauma and a multitude of post-migratory stressors, the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has brought about further loss of access to settlement services, loss of employment and income, and prolonged social isolation, each of which exacerbates mental and social strain.
  • Many refugee patients have struggled to access their health care providers and familiar social supports during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, and continue to grapple with navigating a constrained health system.

What’s the next step?

Overcoming barriers requires new and creative solutions; dynamic interdisciplinary teams, perhaps within more specialized or alternatively funded clinics; and case by-case approaches. Innovations should be codesigned with patients to ensure strategies are responsive to their needs and priorities.

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