Local groups helping refugees navigate pandemic challenges

SPOKANE, Wash. — Every year, hundreds of refugees come to the Inland Northwest in search of a better life but in 2020, federal policy changes and a pandemic has made resettlement more challenging for this group.

Refugee Connections Spokane has teamed up with other non-profits like Second Harvest, Spokane Food Fighters and Spokane masks to bring food and other resources to refugees in Spokane.

“Our staff check in on a weekly basis with clients, deliver food and other personal protective equipment,” said Marijke Fakasiieiki, Executive Director of Refugee Connections Spokane.

Since the pandemic hit, Fakasiieiki’s staff has shifted their programs to help between 150 to 200 refugee clients across the region.

“A lot of the refugee and immigrant communities lost their jobs in February or March, ” said Fakasiieiki. “Then you throw the rules changes on top of that and so it makes them increasingly fearful.”

Refugee Connections Spokane makes multiple home deliveries to refugees each week and amid federal policy changes, staff will share the latest information on COVID-19, healthcare, housing and census information to families in multiple languages.

“All these families that we serve really are so happy to have us and for some of these families it can be a lifeline,” said Amber Johnsen, a Program Coordinator with Refugee Connections Spokane.

She says their clients come from nearly a dozen different countries.

“We want to show them that they’re thought about and  that we’re not going anywhere,” said Johnsen.