Because of language and cultural barriers, accessing jobs, health care, social services, and education is nearly impossible for many families on their own. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that refugees who have lived most of their lives in refugee camps have no knowledge of or experience with these types of services even in their own countries. Cultural differences in terms of services and expectations also pose significant barriers. In some circumstances (such as at hospitals), phone interpreters are available to assist clients, but are not particularly effective because they lack specialized training and fluency in all dialects and because clients are usually not comfortable speaking about private matters with someone they do not know and cannot even see. The American educational system also poses a significant problem for parents of refugee and immigrant youth, as it is difficult for adults to communicate with teachers and school officials, provide guidance on social issues, and offer their children the academic support they need.
Refugee Transitions' staff provides family support and case management to our neediest families, connecting them to important community resources while preparing them to do so on their own. In the East Bay, RT works with the Oakland Unified School District's Refugee and Asylee Student Assistance Program to help link families to academic and social services. In San Francisco, RT's Program Coordinator supports immigrants and refugees from the API community, helping clients access job opportunities and training programs through partners like the Chinatown Neighborhood Workforce Center. In the South Bay and East Bay, RT's Family Advocates provide individualized support to recently arrived Burmese refugees, coordinating efforts with social services and health providers. Staff additionally assists clients in preparing for the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services' Naturalization Test.
BURMESE / KAREN / KARENNI FAMILY SUPPORT
The Burmese/Karen/Karenni refugees arriving in the Bay Area rank among the neediest refugee/immigrant communities, lacking English skills and often basic literacy skills in their own language (Burmese), vocational experience or skills, and suffering from nutritional deficiencies and physical and mental health ailments related to their traumatic experiences. These families have spent up to 20 years in rural refugee camps, with little to no health services or job or educational opportunities, and they are often ill-equipped to survive the urban landscape of the Bay Area. Currently, for Alameda County, there is only one part-time Burmese interpreter working in the public health care system, despite the fact that there are hundreds of recently arrived Burmese refugees in the area.
RT’s East Bay Family Advocate, himself a Burmese refugee, spends approximately 100 hours per month interpreting for and linking families to local resources—with many more needing his services. Activities that he regularly helps clients with include: accompanying clients to and interpreting at hospital visits, linking clients to appropriate physical and mental health resources, advocating for language access with social service agencies, and filling out applications and forms. RT's South Bay Family Advocate, an asylee from Burma, provides similar essential support filling the large gap in services that Burmese refugees face after arriving in country.