As Victoria reopens after another prolonged lockdown, a long term recovery plan will be needed to support migrant and refugee communities, who have suffered disproportionate health, economic and social effects.

A new report from Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria provides a snapshot of the experiences of migrant and refugee communities during the previous waves of the pandemic and highlights the need for a plan to address the longer-term impacts and challenges for migrant and refugee communities.

COVID-19 has highlighted health inequalities and multiple hardships faced by migrant and refugee communities, including financial hardship, housing insecurity, mental health struggles, social isolation, and disproportionate job losses due to high proportion of people in casual and insecure work.

Our Voices, Our Struggles, Our Views: Will You Choose to Hear Us? – COVID-19 Recovery and migrant and refugee communities is based on ECCV consultations with migrant and refugee community members, bicultural workers and community organisations in metropolitan Melbourne.

Conducted in March and April 2021 by ECCV’s COVID-19 Outreach team, which was funded through the Working for Victoria program, the interviews aimed to gain a deeper insight of their pandemic experiences, learn about strategies had worked for them, and understand what they needed to help longer term recovery. The report highlights their stories and makes recommendations from their perspective.

Issues highlighted by participants included:

  • Many people on temporary visas, including international students, faced dire circumstances, relying on donated food and emergency payments.
  • Increase in family violence
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs as people are self-medicating to cope with feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, stress and depression
  • major disruptions to the education of children and young people
  • Refugee families reported feeling they were “back in detention.”
  • COVID-10 creating additional challenges for settlement and transition to life in a new country
  • Mainstream programs and services are often not accessible, with many people approaching community organisations and leaders rather than go to a mainstream organisation or a public service.

The pandemic has exposed system of under-servicing for migrant and refugee communities when it came to health, employment, housing, and family support, and accessing appropriate support systems would be critical to equitable recovery from the pandemic.

The report makes recommendations for what is needed for the next one to two years, including programs to support access to employment, education and economic opportunities, delivered by grass-roots community organisations, as well as culturally responsive mental health support.