« Immigrants are worrying about social ties and finances during coronavirus », Carlo Handy Charles, The Conversation, 19 mai 2020

Immigrants are worrying about social ties and finances during coronavirus

Maryam Sadat Montajabi, centre left, and her daughter Romina Khaksar, 15, who both moved to Canada from Iran in 2015, wait to have their photo taken with digni­taries after becoming Canadian citi­zens during a special Canada Day citi­zen­ship cere­mony, in West Vancouver on July 1, 2019.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/​Darryl Dyck

Carlo Handy Charles, McMaster University

A recent Statistics Canada study reveals that immi­grants and refugees are more likely than Canadian-​born indi­vid­uals to be worried about the social and economic impacts of the COVID-​19 pandemic.

Forty-​four per cent of immi­grants reported having high levels of concern about the main­te­nance of social ties and their ability to support one another during or after the pandemic ; 30 per cent of Canadian-​born indi­vid­uals reported the same. The study confirms that differ­ences between immi­grants and Canadian-​born indi­vid­uals are similar for both men and women.

(Statistics Canada)

Immigrants — often racial­ized women and men from the Global South — have become the back­bone of the Canadian economy and labour force during this crisis. They have filled low-​paid jobs such as taxi drivers, farm workers and front-​line care­givers.

These are jobs that Canadian-​born indi­vid­uals avoid. Immigrants often take on these jobs not because they lack profes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions, but due to lack of oppor­tu­nity, non-​recognition of their educa­tional creden­tials or a lack of “Canadian experience.”

Canada is an immi­gra­tion country and a world leader with respect to immi­grant and refugee reset­tle­ment. While all indi­vid­uals in Canada are coping with the impacts of COVID-​19, it is crucial to under­stand how immi­grants and refugees are expe­ri­encing the pandemic and how to help cushion its impact.

Immigrant status and social ties

Landed immi­grants, refugees, migrant workers and inter­na­tional students may have different migra­tion expe­ri­ences but their status as foreign-​born or non-​national indi­vid­uals have simi­lar­i­ties, espe­cially when looking at their social ties during the pandemic.

In Canada, immi­grant social ties are often under­stood as member­ships to Canadian recre­ational or reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions. However, research also shows that local networks of acquain­tances, friends and services — some­times ethnic, some­times multi-​ethnic or neigh­bour­hood networks, and various commu­nity groups — contribute to and strengthen immi­grant social ties.

Before COVID-​19, some immi­grants already missed the kinds of human inter­ac­tion they were used to in their home coun­tries – such as familiar faces, greeting friends and familiar prod­ucts in stores. Previous research has shown that elderly immi­grants struggle with social isola­tion and lone­li­ness more than people born in Canada.

Social isola­tion resulting from immi­grant status is an impor­tant deter­mi­nant of immi­grants’ phys­ical and mental health. It is there­fore impor­tant for govern­ments and civil society to under­stand how their unique expe­ri­ences during the pandemic may impact their health outcomes and well-​being more than those of Canadian-​born people.

Refugees’ concerns about social risks

Immigrants, espe­cially refugees, are also more concerned than Canadian-​born indi­vid­uals — 53 per cent compared to 37 per cent — about the possi­bility of civil disorder during the pandemic.

Although they have different social networks than those born in Canada, refugees may be more sensi­tive to certain social risks, such as civil disarray or the ability to support each other.

Many refugees lived in camps, were held in deten­tion centres or tran­sited through various coun­tries before accessing perma­nent legal status in Canada. In my research, I have found that some Haitian asylum-​seekers had made an arduous 11,000-kilometre journey from Brazil to the U.S. — often on foot and under diffi­cult circum­stances — to claim refuge in Canada.

Maryam, 8, holds her hand-​drawn sign along­side her family to welcome the first Syrian refugees at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in December 2015.
(Shutterstock)

This affects refugees’ health, and may also reac­ti­vate some trauma related to their pre-​migration and migra­tion jour­neys. This pandemic is a period of high uncer­tainty and social risk ; refugees may find them­selves reliving some trau­matic expe­ri­ences, as research has shown on the expe­ri­ence of Syrian refugees or the Vietnamese “boat people” who came to Canada.

Research on influenza suggests that refugees and asylum-​seekers may be required to adjust to a double coping strategy during pandemics. First, they must comply with public health measures, such as phys­ical distancing. The second is their adjust­ment to poten­tial trau­matic migra­tion expe­ri­ences and social stigma. It is expe­dient to pay atten­tion to how social stigma may affect refugees.

Concerns about socio-​economic impacts

Immigrants are also signif­i­cantly more likely than Canadian-​born indi­vid­uals to report that the crisis would have a “major” or “moderate” impact on their finances. While 27 per cent of Canadian-​born men reported that the crisis would have an impact on their ability to meet finan­cial oblig­a­tions, 43 per cent of immi­grant men reported the same.

The most recent labour market figures for April show that Canada lost nearly two million jobs in sectors like construc­tion, manu­fac­turing, retail trade, accom­mo­da­tion and food services. For immi­grants, refugees and asylum-​seekers, a job loss increases their precarity, espe­cially among refugees who have been under­going a decrease in earn­ings over the past 15 years in Canada.

At the same time, precar­ious employ­ment is on the rise with vulner­able popu­la­tions like immi­grants and refugees who face higher rates of margin­al­iza­tion than Canadian-​born individuals.

In the areas of Toronto and Montréal where there is a greater propor­tion of low-​income earners, new racial­ized immi­grants and high unem­ploy­ment rates, resi­dents have higher rates of infec­tions and hospi­tal­iza­tions than people in other parts of those cities.

No matter how long immi­grants and refugees have lived in Canada, their foreign-​born status may affect them more than Canadian-​born indi­vid­uals during and after the pandemic.

Potential remedy

Some coun­tries have used the pandemic as a pretext to deny basic human rights to migrants by imple­menting depor­ta­tions or prop­a­gating social stigma.

This may add to immi­grants’ and refugees’ concerns about the social and economic impacts of COVID-​19 on their lives. To help mediate these impacts in Canada, we should recog­nize the vital contri­bu­tion of immi­grants, refugees and other migrants as some of the heroes of the pandemic.

Federal, provin­cial and munic­ipal govern­ments in Canada must adopt the 14 prin­ci­ples of protec­tion for migrants and displaced people during COVID-​19 ; written by migra­tion experts, they provide a basis for advo­cacy and educa­tion during the pandemic.

Now more than ever, as migra­tion researcher Steven Vertovec writes, migrants deserve empathy. To promote empathy, govern­ments and civil society should eluci­date struc­tural and socio-​economic condi­tions and vulner­a­bil­i­ties faced by many migrants and refugees, just as the UN Development Programme and the International Labour Organization are doing with regard to COVID-​19 and people subject to poverty worldwide.

Whether they’re refugees, newcomers or other migrants, they are front-​line workers who not only sustain the Canadian economy but also allow others to remain safely isolated at home.

Therefore, it’s imper­a­tive that federal and provin­cial govern­ments consider the unique chal­lenges faced by immi­grants and refugees as they imple­ment poli­cies to help people in Canada recover from the impacts of the pandemic.The Conversation

Carlo Handy Charles, Vanier Scholar, Trudeau Foundation Scholar and Member of COVID-​19 Impact Committee, CI-​Migrations Fellow, and Joint Ph.D. Student in Sociology and Geography, McMaster University

Cet article est republié à partir de The Conversation sous licence Creative Commons. Lire l’article orig­inal.