During COVID-19 we have seen that racism and discrimination against migrant and refugee communities undermine trust between them and the authorities.
So as the delta version spreads, we have to find ways to build that trust.
With more confidence, we can improve the chances of people following contact tracing and public health advice. It is essential if we are to help prevent more infections, disease and death.
Read more: ‘I will never come to Australia again’: new research reveals the suffering of temporary migrants during the COVID-19 crisis
More racism and discrimination
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing tensions between some migrant and refugee communities and parts of the wider population, including government and health officials.
Migrants have been blamed for spreading COVID-19; International students have faced racism, and reported poor mental and physical health; And people of Chinese background or “East Asian presence” have faced racist abuses and physical attacks.
Then there are refugee communities from non-English speaking backgrounds. Many have arrived after other governments faced war and human rights abuses only to face tough social distancing restrictions and the use of police and military to enforce lockdowns in Australia.
Read more: Using military language and presence may not be the best approach to COVID and public health
This has raised some concerns about their being reported to the government, their visas revoked, detained or deported.
As a result of this past trauma and the risk of losing their temporary visa status, some people have been reluctant to participate in contact tracing and follow public health advice.
Making matters worse is the sharing of racist and harmful stereotypes in some media outlets and on social media.
Building trust requires recognizing the diversity of communities. For example, the phrase “culturally and linguistically diverse” is often used to describe migrant and refugee communities of non-English speaking backgrounds. While the phrase has merit in some situations, it hides differences between and within communities.
For example, the term “migrant” refers to people who have chosen to move from one country or region to another. Expatriates can include international students, business owners, professionals and those wishing to work and join a family already living in Australia.
In contrast, refugees come after suffering psychological distress and trauma due to war, torture and/or conflict. Some refugees may have low levels of education, literacy and financial support.
Read more: How can governments communicate with multicultural Australians about COVID vaccines? It’s not as easy as putting up posters in their language
Any project aimed at communicating health information with such communities needs to be aware of the differences and differences within and between them. Differences include different levels of education, language and literacy skills, preferences in old and new media, and different cultural understandings of health.
Some communities have a more sectarian approach to health, which affects how best to share information. Rights and access to government assistance, including employment and Medicare, also differ.
connect with communities
We can improve contact tracing, share public health advice and, most importantly, build trust by better engaging with communities.
This means involving communities in decision-making and how services are developed and delivered. Governments and health agencies should engage with communities and ask them what skills and support they need to manage pandemics and daily life.
Bilingual community facilitators, also known as bicultural community workers, may be needed. These bring together community members and health agencies to moderate discussions, organize workshops, develop solutions, and help build long-term relationships and trust.
Read more: We asked multicultural communities how to best communicate COVID-19 advice. here’s what they told us
Know more is happening
We can also build trust by improving access to training, education, employment, affordable housing and other social factors. These can help improve health outcomes.
Without proper support and tailored health communication it is more likely that people will be forced to break COVID restrictions, such as going to work when sick, or gathering in family groups for support. Without understanding or relying on public health advice, contract tracing for COVID is very difficult.
Read more: Why some people don’t want to take the COVID-19 test
Help develop strong communities
Communities of people with migrant and refugee backgrounds can be supported to find their own solutions to the challenges and opportunities of everyday life.
This “capacity building” may include conducting workshops with families, or helping youth develop their abilities as leaders. For this to happen, governments need to work closely with NGOs.
Programs like this will help build stronger ties within Australian society that will help more people feel that they belong. With stronger ties and greater capacity in communities to deal with health issues, more people are likely to rely on the processes of contact tracing and public health advice.
Read more: Understanding how African-Australians think about COVID could help tailor the public health message
where to go now
Health agencies, governments and others working with people from refugee and migrant communities can make a real and positive difference by helping to build trust with migrant and refugee communities from other non-English speaking backgrounds.
Our challenge now is doing it slowly and carefully.
More respectful and sensitive engagement may be one of the most important ways we can reduce the dreaded disease and death from COVID, and combat the stigma and racism that come with it.