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How we are helping refugees in Arizona during COVID-19

Last updated 
IRC in Tucson staff celebrate after a shopping trip for refugee families. Photo: IRC

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted society in countless ways, but our work at the International Rescue Committee continues. While our offices may be temporarily closed, we are here for refugees, immigrants, and our community, no matter what.

Refugees and immigrants are some of the most impacted by the economic losses of the coronavirus pandemic. Many Arizona refugees work in hospitality, food service, and transportation—industries that have been deeply hurt by COVID-19. As a result, many refugees and other immigrants have lost jobs, had their hours lowered, or suffered a loss of income.

Unfortunately, many do not qualify for critically important government relief due to their arrival date in the US or their immigration status. In addition, language and cultural barriers can present additional challenges to accessing government benefits.

We are actively working to ensure that clients have the information, support, and resources they need during this difficult time. Read below to find out more about our work during COVID-19. 

Connecting with clients remotely

IRC in Phoenix staff prepare care packages for refugee families. Photo: Stephanie Neely

We are proactively calling clients to evaluate their needs, especially our most vulnerable clients. We are contacting all current clients, as well as clients from the past year who are pregnant, seniors, or have chronic health issues. During these conversations, we are evaluating the safety and health of refugee families and planning for assistance if they need aid. IRC staff help eligible clients in applying for government benefits if they are qualified, such as unemployment and rental assistance. Simultaneously, IRC staff are working with clients who have lost their jobs to apply for new employment.

Delivering care packages to families in need

For those who have immediate needs, we have delivered food boxes and care packages. Many refugee and immigrant families face food insecurity due to a loss of income. The IRC in Arizona offices have been connecting refugees to community food sources, such as free meals at schools and food pantries. For families unable to access those sources, staff have collected donations and purchased additional food to deliver to them.

Tareke, a New Roots farmer, displays his produce. Tareke has donated hundreds of bushels of fresh produce to refugee families. Photo: Anna Cobb

In Tucson, IRC staff put together food boxes for the most vulnerable families, including single mothers with children. “Without IRC assistance, these families would not have had access to food,“ said Meheria Habibi, Senior Program Manager at the IRC in Tucson.

In Phoenix, IRC staff have delivered care packages to over 250 families. Each care package contains food, hygiene products, and other basic items. Many of the items were donated by local charities and churches, as well as by fellow refugees like Tareke.  

Tareke, a refugee from Eritrea, wanted to make sure that other refugees had food for their families. To solve that, he and other refugee farmers in the New Roots program have donated fresh produce for distribution to families in need over the past month. So far, Tareke has donated hundreds of bushels of swiss chard, fennel, garlic, green onions, and cilantro. The donated produce has been included in care packages delivered by IRC in Phoenix staff.

Welcome Center

A volunteer at the Welcome Center takes the temperature of a recently arrived asylum-seeker and her infant. Photo: Uriel Gonzalez

The Welcome Center remains open, with IRC staff and volunteers continuing to welcome asylum-seeking families released from detention. Health and safety precautions have been taken to protect clients, volunteers, and staff. We are adopting social distancing practices, taking extra health precautions, performing medical screenings on newly-arrived asylum-seekers, and providing education about COVID-19 in their native language.

How You Can Help

We are able to continue supporting refugees during this difficult time thanks to the generosity of the Arizona community. Now, more than ever, refugee families need our support. Please consider becoming a volunteer or contributing to our Emergency Response Fund. 

Make face masks from home. In agreement with the guidance issued by the CDC that the wearing of cloth face masks in the community will help to flatten the curve of this pandemic, we are looking for mask-sewing volunteers. If you are interested in making face masks that the IRC can provide to refugee clients and staff performing emergency deliveries, please visit the pages below.

Donate to our Emergency Response Fund. Many refugees work in the hospitality and transportation industries and may be disproportionately affected by economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Emergency Response Fund will allow us to provide emergency assistance to refugee families for rent, food, and other basic needs.