Lack of English language skills has prevented many of the refugees from landing jobs and even seeking health care, said 29-year-old Kwee Say, who interprets for both the Burmese and Karen-speaking refugees at the Asian Health Services.
She herself arrived in Oakland as a refugee back in 2004, armed with English skills and a determination to earn a degree from a U.S. university.
“Knowing English was a big help,” Say said. “It helped me earn a degree” in biochemistry and science from U.C. Davis.
The needs assessment report found that 38 percent of Oakland’s refugees from Myanmar speak no English at all, while 28 percent of them spoke English poorly.
It also found that 63 percent of them are unemployed, and those who are employed, are in low-paying jobs.
The majority of them said lack of English-language skills is their biggest barrier to assessing health care, according to the report.
Most of the refugees from Myanmar are on the Alameda Alliance health plan, which however does not cover dental and vision care. But refugees get those needs met at the Asian Health Services on 8th Street, which has two interpreters fluent in Burmese and Karen.
However, if AHS refers their refugee patients to specialists, many of them just don’t go because of language barriers, Bwar said.
“We cannot communicate with them, and we cannot find interpreters to take with us,” Muang said.
Even if interpreters are available, the long wait for them at clinics or hospitals discourages many refugees from seeking medical care.
“Sometimes I have to wait all day,” said Moe Reh.
Their hardships notwithstanding, Muang said he wouldn’t dream of going back to Myanmar on the strength of promises currently being made by its military leaders.
“But if (opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi comes to power and establishes a democratic government, I’ll go back,” Maung said, his face lighting up at the prospect.
This post was originally published by New America Media.
Photo: SF State researcher Kwee Say (right) interviews Karen refugees from Burma Tha Mee (center) and Mu Doe (left) at a health fair. Photo courtesy of Johnny Hu. Courtesy of New America Media
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