Migrants and refugees gain a SmartStart to disaster preparedness with the Red Cross

Topics: Migrant and Refugee Services
February 20, 2013

Migrants and refugees gain a SmartStart to disaster preparedness with the Red Cross

People rarely expect natural disasters or other incidents to occur, but emergencies can strike at a moment's notice. While the fear of a disaster may leave many Canadians stressed or confused, for migrants and refugees, this stress can be even worse.

Breaking the language barrier
Often times migrants and refugees relocate with limited funds and poor fluency in English or French, making it difficult to communicate with emergency responders or other persons who may be able to provide relief in an emergency.

In 2007, the Canadian Red Cross began offering SmartStart: Personal Disaster Preparedness, a program specifically designed to prepare migrants and refugees for disasters and the potential loss of essential services, as well as how to support themselves and their families in a disaster and reconnect with loved ones in case of separation.

Available in multiple languages, this 2.5-hour workshop can teach vital skills to newcomers. Canadians who don't speak English or French, as well as elderly persons, women and single parents and other people who are more at risk in emergencies.

Preparing for an emergency
Taught by Red Cross-trained instructors, this invaluable workshop can be a great way for migrant and refugee families to bolster their abilities to respond to an emergency. Families should also take proactive steps to develop an emergency preparedness kit containing essential items that they may need to survive those critical first few days after a disaster occurs.

Preparing for an emergency can be time-consuming and difficult, which is why some families may prefer to break down the activities over the course of several weeks. For migrant and refugee families especially, it may be difficult to locate all of the items needed for an effective and long-term disaster kit due to language barriers and other deterrents, making the steady stockpiling of essential items a great way to slowly gain everything needed in the aftermath of a major disaster.

During the first weeks of the process of preparing for an emergency, families should aim to pick a portable container, a three day supply of water, as well as packaged foods and special items like medications or baby supplies. Canned meats, fruits and non-perishable or freeze-dried items are ideal sources of food to pack in a kit, while disposable diapers and other baby care items are must-haves if there's an infant in the family.

Delegating tasks
Migrant and refugee families may have difficulty communicating with neighbours, but within the family, each member can be delegated a specific safety task. If there's one member who is fluent in both the family's native language, as well as French or English they would be ideal to serve as an interpreter in the event of an emergency.

Important documents confirming residency and legal status within the country are perhaps one of the most vital items that should be packed along with emergency kit items. By storing these and other pertinent papers in a fireproof or waterproof container, migrants and refugees can feel peace of mind.