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Stories of 2020: Refugee Communities

Refugees who come to the United States seeking safety from violence and oppression face many difficulties. The COVID-19 pandemic made things even more difficult. In this series of short personal essays, refugees from South Asia talk about their difficulties navigating the U.S. healthcare system and a new country during the pandemic.

“I feel lucky that I do not have anybody in my family who caught the virus so far,” writes Hari C., a refugee from Bhutan who now lives in North Carolina, “but I can feel the fear every second.” His words reflect the challenges of the pandemic for many, but especially those in refugee communities.

Through essays, refugees reflect on their experiences. COVID-19 “completely changed everything,” Bhuwan G., a Bhutanese refugee now living in Springfield, Massachusetts, writes. COVID-19 put “a spotlight on the risk factors faced by refugees and immigrants that lead to a high burden of chronic disease and health disparities.”

We celebrated the festival with fear and worries inside.

As a result of risks and subsequent health disparities, refugees have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. Further, language and cultural barriers make navigating the health care system difficult. Writes Bhuwan: “Imagine trying to make sense of directions in a language you don’t understand for which button to press on the phone to speak with a nurse.”

The pandemic affected businesses and tested families. Upendra D. owned a liquor store in Pittsburgh but was forced to sell it when the government classified his work as non-essential. Gopal A. writes that his job continued, but his wife’s did not. When Ganesh G. lost his grandfather to COVID, he relied on traditional values of “self-respect and due diligence” for strength. Despite the pandemic's risks, Hari C.’s family gathered to celebrate traditional Hindu festivals.

“Maybe because of the experience of a tough life in the refugee camp for 20 years,” Gopal writes, “I am always hopeful, optimistic, and resilient.”

Read their stories