Portraits of Leadership
HIAS Confronts COVID-19
Today we’re talking with Bill Swersey, Vice President of Communications at HIAS. The 130 year-old organization works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities.
From your vantage point, what stories are not being told about the impact of the Coronavirus?
HIAS’ focus is refugees and asylum seekers and we’ve very concerned that these populations may be falling through the cracks as governments take care of their citizens during this crisis.
Most refugees around the world are not in refugee camps, but rather in cities where they struggle to make ends meet under normal circumstances.
Many work in street commerce, buying and selling goods to support their families, so when everyone is off the streets, their sole source of income is gone. HIAS is rushing to provide emergency cash stipends to refugees in many of the 16 countries around the world where we work.
In the US, we’re working to make sure that recently resettled refugees, who many not be eligible for stimulus payments since they did not file taxes last year, and may not qualify for unemployment since they have not worked the minimum number of hours this year, have what they need to get by.
How have you needed to change how your staff works or the way you deliver services in order to meet the new reality?
We’ve had a robust digital communications program for some time and are putting even more effort there now, updating our website frequently, creating videos to inform our constituents and more.
But much of our programs staff — those who work with refugee clients around the world — have traditionally done their work person-to-person. They are adjusting, using video conferencing, social media, and WhatsApp to reach refugees. It is a challenge, but it seems to be working so far.
What gives you hope in this moment?
The incredible dedication of HIAS staff around the world. I’ve never been prouder to be part of this organization.
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