Refugees facing many challenges during COVID-19

SPOKANE, Wash. – Refugees in Spokane have come so far, overcoming difficult situations in their home country and starting their lives over in America. Doing that through a pandemic makes things harder.

It’s taken years for Saman Alhasan to get to where he is today. He left Iraq in 2012.

“It was not safe there for me. It was the safest thing to do back then,” Alhasan said.

He moved to Turkey and lived there for five years, a climate that wasn’t so great either.

“You can’t work there. They treat people not good, actually,” Alhasan said.

Alhasan then came to Spokane on May 4, 2017, almost three years ago.

“I didn’t have anything in Spokane. It’s a good place for me and I think for a lot of refugees,” he told 4 News Now.

In his three years in Spokane, he earned his GED. He is now a certified nursing assistant with Sacred Heart, doing it through a program the hospital offers.

Alhasan said it was difficult to first start out in America, but through hard work and dedication, he eventually was able to stand on his own two feet. For other refugees who are just starting out, he’s telling them to “hang in there.”

“If they can’t speak English, they can’t say anything, so it will be really hard for them,” he said.

This is where World Relief Spokane comes in, helping refugees navigate through the pandemic with unemployment and more.

Since the pandemic started, Mark Finney, the director of World Relief Spokane, said they’ve reached out to some of their clients. Normally, World Relief is in constant contact with refugees when they come to America for the first 6 to 12 months for initial support. Then eventually those people become self sufficient.

However, they decided to reach out to people who have been in Spokane for up to five years and see if they needed help.

Finney said they found of the 100 families they’ve talked to so far, more than 30 are without a job because of COVID-19.

“A lot of refugees and immigrants work in hospitality related jobs or food service. Obviously now with a lot of hotels closed and restaurants scaled back a lot of people were already on their own two feet, have become unemployed,” he told 4 News now.

The organization is doing what it can to help. It is still offering services by phone or over video chat, but some services had to be suspended. The organization’s legal service helps refugees and immigrants become citizens. Finney said they can still file some documents, but the courts are closed for final approval of citizenship.

“We’ve helped people get access to food banks and sometimes parents who are here with their kids in the schools.  It’s really challenging to be a parent and navigate home schooling, especially if you’re from a different culture,” Finney said.

While it may be tough for some refugees to go through this pandemic, some have been through worse.

“A lot of refugees have been through a lot of things that have been a lot harder in many ways. This is terrible tragedy, we don’t know how it’s going to end,” Finney said of the coronavirus. “But, if you’ve been through a war in a place like Syria, you feel like ‘Hey, I’ve been through some things that I can make it through this.'”

Finney said World Relief Spokane is in need of financial donations to help their clients who can’t afford to pay rent or bills.

They’re also thinking about starting up a virtual English tutoring. For more information or to find out how to help, visit World Relief Spokane’s website here.

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