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CNYs Newer Refugees Acclimate to Different Country, Culture Amid COVID-19 Pandemic


All Central New Yorkers are trying to cope with the risk and restrictions posed by COVID-19 and how to stay healthy.  But the area’s newer refugees might have a harder time understanding or even getting the right information. 

That’s where the Center for New Americans comes in.  Olive Sephuma is the director.

"We're talking about new Americans still in that acculturation-acclimation phase, families that still might have language and literacy barriers.  For us as an agency, it's making sure that the information they're receiving is conveyed in ways that they understand."

Sephuma says case managers are reaching out by phone making sure clients know how to avoid getting sick by properly sanitizing and practicing social distancing.   She says there is a level of concern among new Americans about staying safe based on hearing how the disease spreads.

"If your children are not going to school and its because of moves we've had to make to cap community spread, then this is a serious thing.  Therefore, 'I'm afraid, I'm concerned and scared for my health and for the wellness of my family.'"

Sephuma says they’re trying to reassure families by addressing fears and clearing up any misconceptions they may have about the risk.   She says social distancing for someone new to the community can be difficult.


"That support that you're getting from people that you can spend time with, that you're sharing common experiences with, is something that you do lean on.  So, this is hard to not have that connection and that outlet."

She says thankfully, phone calls, texts, facebook live, and other virtual communication apps have been a lifeline for refugee families wanting to keep in touch with friends and family back home. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at