Research shows young migrants are key to Covid safety

Young refugees and migrants are the key to limiting the spread of Covid-19 and managing recovery in their communities, new ACU research has found.

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Youth Studies, found young refugees who have long acted as “settlement champions” in their community, are under increasing strain as they take on the burden of guiding and supporting their communities during the pandemic.

Lead author Dr Jen Couch said multicultural communities are at increased risk of Covid-19 exposure due to communication difficulties, concentrated populations, high rates of casual work, and poorer to health care and social support compared.

Dr Couch, a youth studies lecturer, said Australia needed a radical shift in the support it offered young refugees during the pandemic and recovery.

“These young refugees are the key to controlling Covid-19 and managing recovery in their communities. At the moment, they are an under-utilised resource, doing enormous amounts of work but not being acknowledged, supported, or treated as strategic partners by the government agencies that depend on them,” she said.

“They have always been carers, innovators, and providers in helping their families settle in Australia but in Covid-19 they are doing so much, sometimes at considerable cost to their well-being. We depend on them, and we have to do better at supporting them.”

Dr Couch conducted the research with James McDougall from ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies, and Nadine Liddy from the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Australia (MYAN). 

It highlighted how young migrants aged between 18 to 24, many with refugee backgrounds, are carrying much of the burden of Covid-19 in migrant communities.

Young people interviewed in the study said they had found themselves responsible for interpreting and translating, earning an income, caring for older and younger family members, providing educational support for siblings who are home schooling, and giving emotional and physical support to their families and neighbours during lockdowns.

“Out of 15 people, my English is the best. I really felt a lot of responsibility – everyone needed to make calls. If there were bills to sort and pay, I did it. If there was a teacher to ring or something to sort out, everyone asked me.”

Young people often have the best skills in their communities, not only in language but also in navigating Australia systems. Many became innovators, introducing systems to support neighbours and families during lockdown. 

“Actually, when the lockdown came, I was at my brother’s, not on the estate. I thought that I should just stay there. But, how could I? My family and community were there. I knew how frightened people would be. When I got back there were so many police, it looked like something terrible had happened. We decided to go door to door in one tower block where we knew a lot of people. As we got to doors, we could hear crying. There were so many corridors, where that is all we could hear.”

For some refugee young people, the stress of the pandemic is reviving the trauma that forced them to come to Australia.

“What we are facing now during this crisis is reminding me of the revolution I witnessed in my country, the state of panic, the constant horrific news, and the speed of which new rules and measures are being put in orders is quite triggering and scary.”


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