Refugees in Canada during the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic

AUTHORS    Jennifer Edmonds and Antoine Flahault

LOCATION   National


It is crucial to understand how the most vulnerable populations have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This paper intends to contextualize the experience of resettled refugees in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, framing the issue for further study as the situation evolves. Based on the experience drawn from the first wave of the pandemic, the findings of this paper suggest that refugees in Canada encounter barriers to healthcare, economic support, education, social support, and border crossing impediments, all of which can have a compounding effect. These findings provide needed information to inform the development of effective policies and strategies to support refugees during health security emergencies in Canada.

How does this research apply to my work?

As countries develop policies and programs to manage COVID-19, health security has been brought to the forefront of national and international governance. Health security has been acknowledged to be one of the most important non-traditional security issues at both national and international levels, a point which has been further highlighted in the context of a pandemic. 

What should I take away from this research?

This article highlights the experience of refugees in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, centered around the following themes:

  • refugee resettlement programs in Canada
  • access to healthcare
  • health insurance
  • health literacy
  • personal protective equipment and testing capacity
  • economic measures
  • closure of public spaces and schools
  • closure of community and religious centres
  • closure of borders

What’s the next step?

This article has aimed to frame the issue and set the context; however, further research listening to the voice of the refugees in question is a crucial next step in the process to understand the experience of refugees in Canada. The refugee perspective is particularly needed to understand which barriers matter most to them, which will in turn help refugee support services best direct their resources. At this time much is unknown about how long COVID-19 will challenge the way Canadians live their lives. Whether for this pandemic or the next health security emergency, understanding how to best support the most vulnerable in Canadian society during an international crisis needs to be a high priority. Doing so will support efforts to develop effective prevention policies and strategies that will benefit not only refugees in Canada, but the entire population.

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