KITCHENER -- Cultural and language barriers have amplified challenges for the local Rohingyan refugee community living in local COVID-19 hot spots.

More than half of Canada's Rohingyan population lives in Waterloo Region.

Saifullah Muhammed, co-founder of the Canadian Rohingyan Development Initiative, said the pandemic has brought a greater sense of isolation.

"We feel like we are on an island," she said.

More than 500 Rohingyans live in the area. Community leaders said life has been difficult for them over the past year.

"We support the service providers, hospitals and our community as much as we can, but this is not enough," Muhammed said.

Language is a major barrier for helping people in the community.

"Being a full-time student and working part-time, it is hard for us to always go with them," Muhammed said.

New COVID-19 guidelines have made it even more difficult.

"In this pandemic, we had a lot of problems to go with them because of the barrier of the COVID protocols," Muhammed said.

Regional officials are hosting town hall meetings in an effort to reach out to local groups to understand barriers faced when accessing COVID-19 supports and vaccines.

"It turns out, for the Rohingya community, they really need resources in the Rohingya language," said Fauzia Baig, the region's equity and anti-racism advisor.

The region made a special video about vaccines in Rohingyan, but Baig said more needs to be done to help this community and others.

"In terms of, how do we continue to work with community partners, community leaders, to remove these barriers to provide them with resources and supports they need to serve their communities more fully," she said.

The video was released a couple of weeks ago and Muhammed said she's starting to see a bit of an impact.

"People are taking the vaccine," she said.