Initial interviews and focus groups were conducted with four service providers, seven Ezidi men and three Ezidi women.
Five themes were identified:
The refugee experience influences the communication of COVID-19 messages
Cultural, social and gender norms influence responses to COVID-19
Trusted individuals and service providers are key
Problems with available government COVID-19 information
COVID-19 communication can be improved
1. The refugee experience influences the communication of COVID-19 messages
Community members and influential community members reported low literacy, not only in English, but also Kurdish-Kurmanji. This was attributed to dislocated education prior to arrival in Australia, lack of opportunity and competing priorities:
I used to be able to write Kurdish and Arabic as well, but for 6 years [as a refugee] I didn’t write anything, it got lost (community member)
Older community members stated that they are not familiar with technology; therefore they relied on younger members to receive COVID-19 messages. Access to technology equipment, such as a device or Internet was reported to be problematic:
Lots of parents, the thing they wanted most for their kids- ‘teach them about computers!’ (service provider)
It [COVID-19] did make the community very aware of their lack of digital literacy (service provider)
Importantly, both the community and service providers reported that psychological issues related to past traumatic experiences thwarted the refugees’ ability to process and learn new information related to COVID-19 information. Underlying mental health issues, which seemed to be related to the refugee experience, were reported to have profound effects on memory and retention. The Ezidi participants struggled to prioritise daily tasks, understand, retain and recall information. An elder Ezidi man described his experience of personal loss associated with the Islamic State attacks, then pointed to his head and said:
…the brain is tired, so we can’t learn. (influential community member)
One service provider gave an example of the difficulties with processing and retaining health related information by Ezidi community members:
[Due to the trauma, they don’t have the ability] to retain and understand, and to put that into real life as well. They might have been told that they can’t go anywhere [after their COVID test], but then the dentist would have called and said ‘you’re late for your appointment’, so that’s all gone out the window (service provider)
2. Cultural, social and gender norms influence responses to COVID-19
Service providers described how Ezidi socio-cultural norms relating to age and gender influenced the way community members sought and shared COVID-19 messages. For example, although younger men may have desirable skills such as bilingual ability and employment, service providers felt that they were hesitant to pass on information without authorisation by respected older males.
But they’re in a good place [young men working in services], the younger ones - because they have more English and have more access to working culture…. I think in a few years’ time, they will naturally take that mentor up of being those community leaders (service provider)
I think there’s a small group of…they are all men, but younger men who have taken up a bit of a community leadership role but at the same time they don’t actually want to be community leaders either (service provider)
This is in contrast to the report from an Ezidi influential member who said other community members actively sought out information from younger Ezidi influential people:
They [community members are] usually asking people who are working already, with the organisation.... we have got 2 or 3 people who are working with them. So they ask them (influential member)
Additionally, service providers thought that information delivered by women might be less acceptable to men. They also believed that women are less likely to actively seek information:
The women, I think, they are the group who are probably least informed. They are also the group of people who are least likely to go into our schools and to go and do other work. It’s basically the men who do a lot of that (service provider)
[single women] are also the ones who are going to get that information from families back overseas and have that misunderstanding of what’s going on as well, and they’re not going to reach out to services for that information (service provider)
An incomplete understanding of COVID-19 was considered by service providers to be a contributing factor to fear amongst the community. An influential community member commented that news about the developing COVID-19 situation in their homeland contributed to the community’s fear response. During the first wave of COVID-19 infections in NSW, service providers noticed Ezidi people carry out customs and behaviours and attributed them to fear. Some Ezidi people were seen wearing homemade red and white threaded necklaces and bangles, which is a practice traditional to the Kurdistan Ezidi group as an expression of protection and love:
they were fearful of sending their children to school, even before, when it (COVID-19) first just started coming out. You could see, they were already coming in wearing those sorts of things [red and white threads] (service provider)
I actually saw an increase of kids even wearing you know, the threads…the red and white threads. I actually saw an increase in number of people wearing those during COVID (service provider)
Community members reported people locking doors to protect themselves. Some service providers suggested an alternative interpretation of door shutting.
March 2020, that [locking doors with chains], that happened in the beginning... like there was a fear in the community because we lost lots of people in our country in Iraq with the fear situation (influential community member)
During lockdown a lot of people kept their door shut and their gates shut as well, because they were so scared about the whole situation. Because they just didn’t have the understanding of what this was… they put chains all on their doors and their gates and they padlocked their gates shut so no one could come in or out (service provider).
Service providers thought that community behaviours were shaped by a historic fear conditioned response to the ISIS raids in their homeland.
People’s cultural background has had a really significant background on how they have responded. And I think that has a lot to do with what’s happening in their home country, or their home village. Because the experience that their family overseas are having, they feel like they need to respond in a certain way (service provider)
3. Trusted individuals and service providers are key
Community participants received information from a variety of people and platforms they trusted. People with low level of literacy relied on word of mouth from family and friends in the community or overseas. Close relationships within the community, coupled with the benefits of proximity living in a country town, facilitated the spread of COVID-19 messages to community members.
Because that [information about COVID-19] is from their home country, I think there is a higher degree of trust that comes with the information that comes from that location (service provider)
And Armidale is a small town, with everyone visiting each other every day or every week. I guess, so it's easier to share information with other community (influential community member)
However, most information was received directly from familiar local service providers such as schools, TAFE (Technical and Further Education), settlement services and refugee health nurses. All Ezidi participants reported a deep sense of respect for the trusted sources, especially local service providers. Community members consistently identified the same service providers as key to their understanding of COVID-19 information:
So they are health professionals- they got lot of information, the right information about it. So, in terms of our caseworkers they care about us, so they have to tell us the right information. So if we do not get from them, where we have to get from? (influential community member)
So here I don’t believe in anyone but her [refugee health nurse] ...yeah, we have a lot of respect and trust in her (community member)
So if it’s a person that I really trust, and she kind of looked at that information and given me, and I trust her. So I only trust people that I really know. But I really need to know the person…. (community member)
But a mistrust of government:
…[the Ezidi] have a very big mistrust of government, so they are not necessarily going to go to government sites to find that information. They’re going to go to ‘D’ at school and knock on her door, or they’re going to go to ‘J’ in Health…. [rather] than find an SBS video … (service provider)
Moreover, participants felt that inconsistent and frequently changing COVID-19 messages across Australian states had contributed to the community’s distrust in governmental information:
So there’s conflicting information out there. And the community becomes a bit paranoid, you know, ‘did I get the true information before’ or ‘should I trust that source, I don’t know’ (service provider)
So lot of times the information we are given, sometimes it is not right. It’s wrong. That’s why it’s hard to believe it (community member)
4. Problems with available government COVID-19 information
The Service providers and community members reported that the Armidale Ezidi have been assisted by local service providers during the pandemic, who took initiative and filled the void of COVID-19 information reaching the community. The service providers described that they shared COVID-19 information by phone call (through interpreters) and social media. Settlement services translated written information into audio-files and shared them on social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.
We use those resources [NSW health website and TV] to make the video and then we post it on the Facebook page (service provider)
…there is a link to making your own video, which was probably the most useful thing we had, because I could just give it to some support workers and say ‘please build a video for us’ and they did that and it was great (service provider)
However, service providers reported feeling under supported by government and uncertain about the content of information they delivered, particularly at the beginning of pandemic. Service providers added that inconsistent messages contributed to community confusion.
So [the information] changing is not consistent but also there’s a lot of it. So it’s hard to comprehend (service provider)
So using masks for example, was a really good example of how things shifted. You know, for the first while, the government’s advice was don’t wear a mask. You don’t need to wear a mask, unless you’re sick. And then all of a sudden, that switched. And so you’ve just spent all this time educating everyone on, ‘no its ok, you don’t need to wear a mask unless you’re sick’ and then the government advice changed and then we just had a bunch of people who were confused and ‘do I wear a mask? Do I not wear a mask?’ (service provider)
Despite being native English speakers with high literacy, at times even the service providers themselves reported difficulty finding accurate COVID-19 related information from government media sources. Concerns followed that the quality of message disseminated to the Ezidi community could be suboptimal. Service providers criticised government COVID-19 resources for the Ezidi and other CALD communities. They reported that information was not translated into languages and script used by Ezidi community, and that the information was too complex for the literacy level of Ezidi community.
…the only other important thing when we’re talking about information given to multicultural communities is the simplification of the information, so breaking it down- what is COVID, what is this disease, how is it transmitted…. that kind of basic foundational information, is disseminated through the community, by the community (service provider)
The problem we now have is that there are now resources in Kurdish-Kurmanji, but they are in the wrong script. So nobody can read them. And even if they could read them, the vast majority of the community can’t read Kurdish-Kurmanji…they’re illiterate…so it needs to be verbal and …pictures (service provider)
Another problem identified by service providers was inconsistency and variation of information from each state.
What really stuck out for me, is how differently each state has managed information. And it needs to have been something that was managed at a federal level. I mean, common sense should prevail that the information going out to the Australian population should be from a central location. Because the advice from different states was different, and so if you were looking to find information to share to the community, you go ‘well is NSW or Queensland more on the topic’, you know, I don’t know (service provider)
5. COVID-19 communication can be improved
Although community members seemed satisfied with the ways they have been receiving COVID-19 information, both service providers and community members discussed that the content, format and delivery of COVID-19 information could be improved to better reach the Ezidi community.
Service providers reported that COVID-19 related information needed to be orally presented in the Kurdish-Kurmanji dialect. Suggestions were made to use pictures or audio-visual material to present information, or a phone call by trusted service providers. Younger community members suggested also having a form of written material available in language for those who were literate:
The information here can be given to the community like over the phone, or even like the leaflets, the paper. And my brother or my sister, they can read both languages. But if it’s written- maybe if it’s Arabic, it’s easier for them to understand (community member)
Some people don't understand...they not attending school at all...A better way to share the information in regard to COVID-19 to make a video from a person from the Ezidi community then everyone can understand clearly and they can get the message very well (influential community member)
I think simple pictorial stuff…Australia is such a multicultural community, that the list of languages is just going to be infinitely long. And if I say, ‘hey, here’s 60 flyers to put in your foyer, so we can cover all the languages’, it’s just so much information that people aren’t going to bother shuffling through that (service provider)
Service providers felt the content needed to be simpler, clearer, concise and relevant. Consistency in content and a unified message was reported to be important, for both service providers and Ezidi members. In addition, service providers felt that the messages needs to be gender, age, and ethnic specific, in order to be culturally appropriate:
It [COVID information] needs to come from a federal level, clear and concise, unified information (service provider)
[The information] should have photos of different ethnic backgrounds, so you’ve got something that will actually resonate with them, rather than your Anglo-Saxon...(service provider)
Another suggestion was to utilise social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, which are already familiar and trusted by Ezidi people to share information. Service providers suggested audio-link files in language as an easy adjunct to social media or government sites:
We can even message out [through social media] a small file to all our clients in our books (service provider)
WhatsApp particularly, for lots of multicultural communities, that’s the go-to communication device (service provider)
Furthermore, all participants highlighted that important health messages must be delivered through trusted service providers or community members. Service providers recommended the identification of ‘key Ezidi contacts’, who may not be revered as official community leaders, but do possess desirable attributes, such as being bilingual, educated and employed. Service providers described that the importance of engaging these individuals is to harness their skills and cultural knowledge, thereby channelling COVID-19 messages in the most culturally appropriate and efficient ways. Service providers predicted that these individuals would likely become accepted as community leaders in the future:
If you can get someone from our community and they can video….and everyone from our community can listen to the video and share with friends (influential member)
I think making it a friendly face...people really didn’t want to talk to people they didn’t know. Finding somebody local to then record that [COVID-19 information audio-visual material], and being able to share that (service provider)
…. [a] program, where they train community members and then those community members go out and do group work within the community to spread that message (service provider)
School and TAFE were identified as avenues to distribute COVID-19 information, as compulsory attendance provides the opportunity for teachers to ensure messages are sent home with a student, thereby potentially benefiting all household members.
TAFE...because there’s a captive audience there, they have to turn up between 9.30-2 or whatever the time is that they’ve got to be there (service provider)
An easier way, would be if everything was under translated message for us, or with TAFE, they would talk to us directly, so those are most important things (community member)