Abstract: 'in Search of a New Life:' Resettlement Challenges of MENA Immigrant and Refugees in the US during COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

141P 'in Search of a New Life:' Resettlement Challenges of MENA Immigrant and Refugees in the US during COVID-19

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Saltanat Childress, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas-Arlington School of Social Work, Arlington, TX
Maybeth Alvarez, BSW, MSW Student, University of Texas-Arlington, Arlington, TX
Norma Escalera, BSW, MSW Student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Esther Lemande, BA, MSW Student, University of Texas-Arlington, Arlington, TX
Nibedita Shrestha, M.Phil, Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Ilana Seff, DrPH, Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University, NY
Lindsay Stark, DrPH, Associate Professor of Social Work and Public Health, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background/Purpose: According to US Census Bureau (2019), there are nearly 1.2 million immigrants and refugees (IRs) from Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions, many of whom come to the US fleeing political unrest or war. A significant percentage of MENA IRs seek resettlement in the US; however, there is little research on the challenges and stressors faced by MENA IRs while adapting to the new society. This study attempts to close the gap by presenting the views of MENA IRs on the challenges they face, and the risk and protective factors that affect their resettlement experiences in the US. Given the timeline of data collection, findings also offer unique insights on these resettlement experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: The data for the qualitative study were collected through twenty-three semi-structured interviews with caregivers (13 mothers and 10 fathers) living in North Texas. The participants came from Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Sudan. All the participants had migrated as refugees or asylees. The interviews were conducted in Arabic, transcribed, and translated into English. Coding was done through a multistep strategy derived from grounded theory methods using open coding and axial coding. To ensure study rigor, analytic triangulation, peer-debriefing, and verbatim quotations are provided in the presentation.

Findings: Six major themes that affect the resettlement process for these MENA IRs in the US emerge in the analysis: 1) influence of strict gender roles in Arab culture; 2) acculturative processes and stress; 3) diminished opportunities due to language barriers and non-recognition of educational degrees from the country of origin; 4) mental health challenges as a result of trauma and resettlement experiences; 5) financial stressors leading to everyday struggles, and 6) the adverse impact of COVID-19 on IR children and families. Analysis indicates that MENA IRs experience a unique acculturative stress because of the trauma and challenges they face in the resettlement process. The findings indicate that the resettlement process became more complicated during the pandemic, increasing anxiety and generating mental health issues among caregivers and children. The analysis reveals that despite mental health being stigmatized, most of the participants admit to experiencing mental health challenges and understand the importance of addressing mental health issues. The multiple challenges faced by MENA IRs impact their lives at the personal, family, and community levels and interact with each other to create formidable challenges in the resettlement process.

Conclusion/Implications: This research provides an in-depth insight into the major challenges experienced by MENA IRs during their resettlement process in the US during the pandemic. The acculturative stressors could likely be mitigated to some extent through trauma-informed responses from the policymakers, community members, and service providers. The findings emphasize the need for more training on cultural sensitivity among service providers working with MENA IRs and family-centered school-based preventive interventions to promote resilience and protective family processes and factors among MENA IRs.