Face to Face: Jen Barile and the International Rescue Committee in Missoula

With the resettlement of refugees into the U.S. on pause, the International Rescue Committee in Missoula is helping families navigate the coronavirus pandemic while they await the hopeful arrival of loved ones.

Jen Barile, director of the Missoula office, said the city’s refugee community has endured its share of challenges during the pandemic.

“Like everyone else, they’re effected in many ways,” she said. “Some folks have lost their jobs. They’re trying to keep up with the regulations. The biggest challenge is the language barrier and some of the cultural barriers the families face.”

With regulations around COVID-19 always changing, even native English speakers have had a hard time tracking the information. For those who aren’t yet fluent in English, the nuances can be challenging.

“We’ve been really taking the time to translate materials or use our on staff interpreters to translate a lot of information in regard to COVID so our families can understand,” Barile said.

President Donald Trump paused refugee resettlement early in the pandemic, and over the past few years he has greatly reduced the number emissions. Both have had an impact on the families who have already settled in Missoula and were waiting for loved ones to join them.

“That really impacts the refugee families we have here who were waiting for their loved ones to come,” said Barile. “Our priority is to keep our staff safe, our clients safe and the Missoula community safe, so it makes sense to postpone arrives. But it has impacted some of our work and the families here waiting for their families to come.”

The challenges have also come with financial setbacks. Like others in the community, members of the refugee committee have lost jobs or seen their hours reduced. The IRC in Missoula, along with its partners at Soft Landing, have stepped in to help.

The IRC and other volunteer organizations have helped navigate unemployment, and they’ve helped ease the shift to digital platforms.

“A lot of people around the U.S. are recognizing how important digital literacy skills are,” said Barile. “We do have families that maybe haven’t used a computer much. That has shifted our skills a little. We’ve been lucky enough to get a grant to deliver laptops to some of our newer families.”