"Working with the Department of Public Health has enabled us to contribute to reducing information barriers for many asylees who are left to fend for themselves as they are not eligible for services or funding available to other migrants"
Life is jammed with boundless challenges and barriers. After a long stressful day, we look to return to that little piece of sanctuary we call home. Our home provides us with a sense of security, belonging, acceptance and love. It is where we wake up to breakfast set on the table and return for a night of peaceful sleep. A home is simply a place of refuge that every human being deserves. Becoming homeless is never anyone's plan, but the disruptions of war and violence can destroy communities, with families being ripped apart. In a state of panic, millions flee their homes to foreign countries out of fear of persecution. Each year, hundreds of thousands of families urgently seek asylum. Being forced to flee your home due to war, violence, persecution, or a natural disaster does not automatically qualify you as a refugee. Asylum must first be sought, and official refugee status is not a guarantee. Many asylum seekers globally live in distress due to the uncertainty of where or when they will find a new home. Language barriers are some of the many challenges they face in these new, unfamiliar environments. These create difficulties in accessing resources, acquiring medical care, and finding housing. While waiting to be granted refugee status, asylees are mostly left to fend for themselves as they are not eligible for many services or funding available to refugees and other migrants. Once granted asylum status, many remain unaware of the support services available. In response to this lack of information and resources available to asylees, the Office of Refugee Health in California's Department of Public Health and the San Francisco Department of Public Health partnered with the USCIS SF Asylum Office to pilot the first-ever virtual New Asylee Orientation in 2021. This comprehensive first-of-its-kind orientation was about 2 hours long and covered 58 counties in California, some of Washington, and parts of Nevada, Oregon, and Alaska. The virtual nature of the event enabled many people from afar to attend. The main topics included learning about what resources and programs asylees are eligible for, how to obtain health insurance, their employment rights, and taxes responsibilities, as well as how to navigate the American education system. The CA DPH's Office of Refugee Health and SF DPH's Newcomers Health Program partnered with the USCIS SF Asylum Office to conduct outreach to the asylees and other community organizations. This New Asylee Orientation continues to support the needs of many asylees on the West coast in the US today. With over 20,000 asylees in California alone in the last two years, it was paramount that the orientation would be accessible to as many asylees as possible. However, since many of them are not conversant in English, providing equitable service meant removing the language barriers faced by many asylees. With this in mind, the DPH partnered with Tarjimly. Tarjimly was responsible for screening, recruiting, and training several volunteer translators to provide on-demand, simultaneous interpretation during the orientation in Spanish and Mandarin. Tarjimly's translators also translated the slides for the orientation so that asylees could access critical resources and information in their languages. The partnership helped ensure newly granted asylees in California, and other states could connect to refugee health assessments and other medical services when needed. In a state of distress in an unfamiliar environment, asylum seekers navigate many unique challenges. They are often worried about jeopardizing their refugee applications, which prevents them from asking for help and accessing many essential resources, such as health checkups and primary education. During these periods of uncertainty, DPH's New Asylee Orientation is a timely initiative that provides them with information about how to combat these challenges.