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IGU Hosts Panel on COVID-19’s Impact on Migrant Workers

Co-authored by Muge Gore and Courtney Gosse

On March 31, the Institute for Global Understanding (IGU) held a panel event, co-sponsored by the School of Social Work and the Department of Professional Counseling, titled COVID-19 Impact on Migrant Workers Globally and Locally: Vaccine Access Equity? Moderated by Dr. Sanjana Ragudaran, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work, this event brought together a community of four social workers to discuss issues related to COVID-19 and its effect on migrant workers. For years, migrant workers have suffered from a lack of accessible resources — and now they also face difficulty in accessing a COVID-19 vaccine.

The event’s first panelist, Dr. Marciana Popescu, is an Associate Professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. Dr. Popescu began her presentation with an eye-opening statement on her exercise of her privilege when, earlier that same day, she received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Most people do not share this privilege due to the complex emergencies occurring, especially within the forced migrant population. Forced migrants are dealing with elevated levels of insecurities — whether these are food insecurity, police brutality, job loss, or domestic violence. Dr. Popescu also touched on child abuse and domestic violence cases, which have dropped during the pandemic. This statistic does not reflect a reduction in domestic violence; however, it merely means that people are failing to report issues behind closed doors with limited opportunities to leave their homes. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has divided migrant communities. Over 80 million have been forcibly displaced.

What happens when people do not have proper shelter? Why do most people assume that running water and soap are universally available? New Jersey Assemblywoman Joann Downey (LD-11) asked these important questions regarding the state government’s role in ensuring its citizens have access to basic necessities. New Jersey has experienced its own challenges since the pandemic began. The digital divide has caused many people to have lost the will to want help. Food insecurity, housing insecurity, and tech insecurity affect the forced migrants who are here in our own backyard. Moreover, children in schools have suffered from these insecurities, including a lack of working technology or a stable WiFi connection at home, rising levels of domestic violence, fewer school meals, and an overall learning loss with less instructional time and possibly no in-person instruction at school.

Dr. Omolola Taiwo, Executive Director at the New Jersey Department of Health, and her organization are pushing the barriers of accessibility to communities. Her office ensures that everyone in the community can obtain resources made all the more essential during the pandemic. Not only should individual needs be met but also those of entire families. Access to the vaccine has shown a common thread of stigma carried out in these communities. Dr. Taiwo mentioned that something as simple as clean clothing is largely inaccessible. Overall, we must ensure that policies and practices, like telehealth, are sustainable for all communities to thrive.

Ms. Beatriz Oesterheld, the Executive Director of the Community Affairs & Resource Center in Asbury Park, proved that working within a community can benefit individuals’ lives. Her organization has worked within the Latino community to provide information sessions, like workshops on the vaccine, in hopes of bringing awareness to the public. In her experience with the pandemic, she has seen that Latino and other minority communities do not have reliable access to phones or to the Internet and, therefore, cannot search for accurate information regarding the vaccine. Her organization then created a registration system that brings families in by appointment. This system has not only assisted communities in accessing the vaccine but has also provided a sense of security and trust in the vaccine, which helps to save people’s lives and ensures that the assistance does not affect individuals’ immigration status.

As we navigate the new normal of the pandemic every day, opportunities such as this panel address the many ways that social workers have been addressing the human rights issues impacting forced migrants. It is important for individuals to continue to educate one another about the virus, along with providing proper access to the vaccine. Many of us have the power at our fingertips, so we must continue to work tirelessly to support our communities. Taking into consideration that some individuals struggle to obtain what others take for granted, we should be able to apply the extensive research available and develop new ways to continuously resolve the issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To view the recording of the discussion, enter the following passcode: Z?TpESp3