Refugee-Led Organizations' Crisis Response during the COVID-19 Pandemic


  • Odessa Gonzalez Benson University of Michigan
  • Irene Routte University of Michigan
  • Ana Paula Pimentel Walker University of Michigan
  • Mieko Yoshihama University of Michigan
  • Allison Kelly University of Michigan



COVID-19, pandemic, crisis response, practice with refugees


Scholarship on disaster response and recovery has focused on local communities as crucial in developing and implementing timely, effective, and sustainable supports. Drawing from interviews with refugee leaders conducted during the spring and summer of 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this study examines crisis response activities of refugee-led grassroots groups, specifically within Bhutanese and Congolese refugee communities in a midwestern metropolitan area in the US resettlement context. Empirical findings illustrate how refugee-led groups provided case management, outreach, programming, and advocacy efforts to respond to the pandemic. These findings align with literature about community-based and strengths-based approaches to addressing challenges stemming from the pandemic. They also point to local embeddedness and flexibility as organizational characteristics that may have helped facilitate crisis response, thereby warranting reconsideration and re-envisioning of the role of refugee-led grassroots groups in crisis response.

Author Biographies

Odessa Gonzalez Benson, University of Michigan

Odessa Gonzalez Benson is an Assistant Professor in Social Work at the University of Michigan. She can be reached at

Irene Routte, University of Michigan

Irene Routte is a Doctoral Student in Social Work and Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She can be reached at

Ana Paula Pimentel Walker, University of Michigan

Ana Paula Pimentel Walker is an Assistant Professor in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan. She can be reached at

Mieko Yoshihama, University of Michigan

Mieko Yoshihama is a Professor in Social Work at the University of Michigan. She can be reached at

Allison Kelly, University of Michigan

Allison Kelly is a Master of Social Work student at the University of Michigan. She can be reached at


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How to Cite

Gonzalez Benson, O., Routte, I., Pimentel Walker, A. P., Yoshihama, M., & Kelly, A. . (2022). Refugee-Led Organizations’ Crisis Response during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 38(1), 62–77.