LANGUAGE barriers are making it difficult for refugee communities to keep up with the rate and frequency of changes to COVID-19 restrictions since the Sydney Delta outbreak, workers say.
People who work with and support refugees and other migrants in the Hunter Central Coast region say it's difficult to find resources in language for many people who are already isolated.
Settlement and Communities Manager at Northern Settlement Services in Newcastle, Debbie Carstens, said that most people understand they cannot go to Sydney, and understand the core messages, but when people do go looking for clarification it is hard to find.
"The challenge, particularly at the moment for people living on the Central Coast, is the frequency in the changing of the guidelines at the moment and trying to stay on top of all of that and trying to understand some of the English words that are used.
Some have tried to ring the police for guidance, she said, but are put through to Services NSW which has kept people on the line for up to two and half hours before dropping out.
"So anyone who is actually trying to get confirmation is potentially getting caught up in that cycle and are in for a very long wait".
Natalia Meliendrez, a Multicultural Community Development worker with Northern Settlement Services on the Central Coast, said every effort was being made to support people, particularly those not entitled to emergency relief benefits, and to keep them informed.
"We are trying to put as much information out as we can - we keep our workers informed about where to find information in different languages but one of the barriers is, when you read it in English and then look to see if you can find it in (other languages) ... some words that make things seem different .. there's a significant language barrier," she said.
"It's a big challenge for our communities across many languages. The population on the Central Coast has grown a lot and there's a lot of different languages and very big communities completely disconnected from services.".
"It's a big challenge for our communities across many languages."Northern Settlement Services, Multicultural Community Development Coordinator, Natalia Meliendrez
Northern Settlement Services has now secured funding through the Settlement Council of Australia to address the lack of in-language information which will be used to deliver targeted information.
"We are aiming to make contact with 1000 people and are strategising about what that looks like - getting information to people who are not otherwise getting information effectively through their networks - phone calls, contact with community leaders - one-on-one follow-up."
CEO of the Settlement Council of Australia, Sandra Elhelw-Wright, said the council recognised there was a gap between what the government was saying and what the community was hearing, in relation to vaccinations and the changing landscape of COVID-19 restrictions.
"We will help fill that gap," she said.
The organisation has Federal Government funding to facilitate forums in different languages about the vaccine across Australia
"These forums provide information about the vaccine in culturally targeted ways, and are an opportunity for communities to ask questions about the vaccine," she said. The funding allocated to other organisations will help them to do more proactive outreach.
"They have been calling their clients and communities, making sure they're safe ... and talking to them about vaccinations. We know having a one-on-one conversation with a trusted person works."
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