Voice of Migrant Women During Covid-19

Map (Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash)

Currently society has been thrown into tumult and much of what we took for granted has been turned on its head. Six weeks into social distancing and fear of something we cannot see but whose powerful reach has affected communities and countries on a global scale, what will we learn from this crisis, and will things ever be the same again? One early lesson is that those already living precarious lives are also most at risk in a crisis.

Amid the talk of zero hours workers, those in poor health, workers in vital public services or families reliant on a flawed benefits system, there has been little attention to the impact on Northern Ireland’s small but growing population of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

Like their neighbours, they are trying to stay safe, protect their families, occupy children stuck at home and get hold of basic supplies. In many cases they navigate these struggles without savings, family networks, often in insecure or overcrowded housing, sometimes with limited English.

The VSB Foundation made small grants available, over three years, to six organisations working with migrant, refugee and asylum seeking women. Over the past 6 weeks their work has changed dramatically and now includes assisting women make Universal Credit claims as many employers are laying off staff rather than using the Job Retention scheme due to cash flow difficulties. The waiting time for the first payment is at least 5 weeks; people are getting automated messages and running to Jobs and Benefits for appointments but finding the doors closed and no information as to what they need to do next.

Social isolation is challenging and one organisation started a WhatsApp group for BAME women finding within the first 3 hours 23 women joined and by the end of the day the group had more than 200 engagements. Urgent housing repairs are not getting done and some families are left without heating. Due to school closures and reduction in working hours or furlough, families are struggling financially with additional house hold costs. Family members presenting with symptoms need support for door step deliveries of essential items.

 

Home schooling is presenting some mums with challenges as a lot of the women have little to no English, and with the assistance of bilingual language support some organisations are offering assistance to the children via telephone and video activities.

It is now apparent that those from BAME communities are at more risk of the coronavirus due to poverty, overcrowding, working in jobs putting their health at risk (health and social care, transport, retail, factories) and often lack of access to healthcare.

 

However many organisations are also finding in communities, there is a lot of resilience to draw on as many have survived war, famine, refugee camps and lived on very, very little over long periods.

As we pick up the pieces after this crisis and start to shape a new normal, it is vital we come out of this stronger, more united and with a new sense of what is really valuable to our communities. It is crucial that the voices of the most marginalised, including refugee and migrant women are part of the dialogue.

Kate Campbell (VSB)