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AJAs 2020 Finalists

Refugee claimant 'wrestling virus' at Northwood


Slug/Label refugeeworker
Date Aired or Published Monday, May 11, 2020
Media outlet where first aired or published: The Chronicle Herald
Name of Program:
If co-produced, list partner:
Location: Halifax
List awards, grants:
Running time (TV/Radio):

Short explanation of the story and how it developed:

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced in Nova Scotia, “Claire” made the difficult decision to work on the front lines in the fight against the virus. The Cameroonian asylum seeker is no stranger to hardship. Having lived through the HIV/AIDs pandemic in Africa, lost her daughter at a young age and been the target of multiple attacks while living in South Africa, she was ready for her next battle. This story is about Claire’s experience working as a personal support worker during the height of the first wave of COVID-19 at the Northwood long-term institution, which at the time of publication, accounted for 41 of the 47 COVID-19 deaths in Nova Scotia. It’s an experience common among many refugee claimants who have risked their lives — without health cards or a sense of certainty in Canada — to provide care to Canadians during turbulent times. This story was also one of the first, unfiltered looks into what it was like working at Northwood, which was rocked by COVID-19. It begins with an introduction to Claire’s work life — consisting of long hours and daily mantras to help Claire prepare herself for working front and centre of the public health crisis. It goes on to detail moments in which Claire observed Northwood residents suffering from the virus, her journey to get to Canada and an immigration lawyer’s insight into how Claire’s story is not unique. It ends with Claire’s remarks about how she’s grateful to lend a helping hand in Canada during such trying times and wants to continue fighting COVID-19 at Northwood until the pandemic is over.

Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:

This story could not have been told without a tip from Halifax immigration lawyer Lee Cohen, who approached me after I had written a few other immigration stories at The Chronicle Herald. He told me about one of his clients, who reminded him of the contributions refugees make to our overall welfare in Canada and to some of the essential components of our economy. After some email exchanges back and forth over the course of a week, I interviewed both Claire, which is not her real name but one we used so as not to present any challenges at her workplace or with her refugee claim, and Lee Cohen on two separate occasions over the phone. Given its timeliness, I was tasked with writing this feature in one day, sifting through my notes and interview recordings to give a voice to some of the most courageous workers in this country.

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