The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of many families in Orange County, and the local refugee community is no exception.
The uncertainty of the times is putting more stress on already difficult lives, said Flicka Bateman, director of the Refugee Support Center. The center is a volunteer-based organization in Carrboro that helps refugees transition to a new life by providing services and resources.
“Economically, they are suffering dramatically,” she said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, when no one could go anywhere, they were cut off from the community that gave them so much support. They worry about how they’re going to feed their kids and pay their rent.”
According to UNC Global, Orange County is home to about 1,200 refugees.
The Refugee Support Center serves approximately 900 refugees, who primarily come from Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria. Bateman said many refugees work in industries that have lost business and laid off employees, such as hotels, restaurants and housekeeping.
In response to the debilitating effects of the pandemic on the refugee community, Bateman said the Refugee Support Center has been giving families rent and medical bill assistance, grocery store gift cards, weekly food distributions and monthly diaper distributions.
In terms of virtual opportunities, the center offers weekly tutoring sessions for English as a Second Language and citizenship advisors via video call platforms. Bateman said the Refugee Support Center also helps refugees apply for citizenship and green cards, as well as unemployment benefits and jobs.
She said the center has seen a surge of citizenship applications because of a steep fee increase for applications from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Starting in October, the fee will increase from $640 to $1,160. Bateman said most refugees were able to get a fee waiver in the past, but that will no longer happen.
“People are rushing to get us to do their applications before the fee waiver goes away,” she said.