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World Refugee Day 2021

Published on 18 June 2021 12:11 PM

Older refugees face many additional challenges on top of the trauma of leaving their homes and lives behind, yet are often overlooked in humanitarian responses to refugee crises. Age International supports older refugees around the world and advocates for their inclusion.

We rarely think of older people when we think of refugees, yet data suggests that an estimated 4 per cent of all displaced persons in the world are older people (and the real figure may be higher still).

Whether due to violence, war, or poverty, having to flee your home late in life can be traumatic, and displaced older people can find themselves physically and socially isolated and at risk of discrimination and abuse. They may also face additional barriers to accessing support due to age-related illnesses and mobility problems and are often overlooked by humanitarian agencies and excluded from services.

A claim to dignity: Ageing on the move

Read our partner HelpAge International's joint report with UNHCR on displaced older people in Latin America.

In HelpAge International and UNHCR’s recent report on displaced older people in the Americas “A claim to dignity: Ageing on the move” they found that older people lacked access to healthcare and humanitarian aid. Far from being able to rely on a pension payment, many older people were responsible for caring for others and became the primary breadwinner for their families. One in four reported that they were skipping meals, and many struggled to get adequate nutrition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the challenges facing displaced older people around the world, with restrictions and misinformation adding to the poverty and isolation they experience.

"Living as a displaced person is hard, especially for older people as sometimes you need something, but you can wait a long time until someone decides to help you."

Maria, 90, South Sudan

As well as calling for governments and humanitarian agencies to be inclusive of older people, and advocating for more and better data on older people, a key part of our work is supporting displaced older people through our programmes.

In the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, we have been supporting older Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar since 2017. We provided older refugees in the camps with “Age-Friendly Spaces” and having a dedicated space for them meant the world to older people who had experienced a great deal of trauma, with the spaces becoming known as their “house of peace”.

With separate areas for men and women, older people felt comfortable to go and be together in a safe space after the harrowing experiences they went through in Myanmar and on the journey to Bangladesh.

"We feel peace and happy to gather here and share our feelings. Here I forget some of my sadness about what happened in Myanmar."

Abu Alom, 56, Cox's Bazar

Through the Age-Friendly Spaces, we were also able to provide medical care, including outreach support and home-based care to those who are bedridden or have chronic medical conditions which make reaching services based at one static point an insurmountable challenge.

Water and hygiene facilities were also installed at Age-Friendly Spaces, ensuring that older refugees had accessible toilet and bathing options – and letting other organisations providing water and hygiene facilities in the camps know the simple changes they could make to ensure their facilities were accessible to older people.

We had an even more important role in the camps during the pandemic as older people needed access to clean water to prevent the spread of the virus and our colleagues in the camps distributed soap and disinfectant to older people in their homes. They also played a vital role in raising awareness about the realities of the virus among older people who might otherwise only have access to second-hand news or misinformation.

As well as our work in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, our programmes support older refugees facing similar challenges across the world - from older people living in temporary shelters in Syria, to the community of Burundi refugees living in Tanzania (below). 

Supporting older refugees around the world

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Last updated: Jun 18 2021

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