As San Diego prepares to welcome more refugees from around the world, a new study from UC San Diego shows the major challenges refugees have faced during the pandemic. COVID-19 led to significantly more job losses and a deterioration in mental health among refugees in San Diego.
“We saw that people in the refugee community had about 30% more job losses than people in the rest of the state,” said author Rebecca Fielding-Miller, PhD, MSPH, assistant professor at UCSD.
Many refugees in San Diego County have essential frontline jobs, such as taxi drivers or restaurants. Those are the types of industries that took a huge hit at the start of the pandemic.
“They also often work in very high-risk jobs, such as home care assistants or essential workers in retail stores. There was a really big difference in which jobs were lost and which jobs people didn’t feel safe to work in,” he said. Fielding Miller.
UCSD partnered with local non-profit, Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) to gather information on refugee families.
The research also indicates that refugees who have been in the US for more than five years experienced more adverse effects during the pandemic than refugees who arrived more recently. Fielding-Miller says refugees are often offered services when they first arrive, but this diminishes the longer they are in San Diego.
Refugees suffered from mental health problems to the same extent as most Californians, but mental health problems were more common among refugees staying here for more than five years.
“These are community members who come from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Southeast Asia, Africa, come from places that are very communal,” said Jeanine Erikat, policy officer at PANA.
“It has taken a great toll on people who were unable to interact socially, which also led to poor mental health,” Erikat added.
When churches, mosques and community centers closed, local refugees lost many of their social networks.
“When you think about how long it can take to rebuild a life when you come here, you have to learn a new language, you have to get new references, you have to enroll your kids in schools and you know, maybe have people need more help than those first five years to recover everything when they come to our community,” Fielding-Miller said.
The US aims to admit more than 100,000 refugees this year. Proponents say the goal emphasizes the need to understand the complexities of San Diego’s refugee community.
Last year, California took in more refugees than any other state in the country. The province of San Diego resettles most of the refugees in the state. Last year, the province took in nearly 2,000 refugees.