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Unequal Ageing: The Plight of Older Refugees

“The elderly are among the most invisible groups of refugees and displaced persons. I hope to change that.” – Mrs Sadako Ogata, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The UNHCR defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence and who has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Due to global conflicts, wars and ethnic, tribal and religious violence, people are fleeing from their homes in record numbers, with over 22.5 million refugees living around the world today.

Refugees around the world are already living in precarious situations with reduced food security, access to housing, education, income and employment opportunities, as well as dealing with the physical and psychological impact of the situation they are fleeing from. However, most interventions and strategies developed to improve the health and well-being of refugees fall far short of addressing the experiences of older people and their specific vulnerabilities.

Older refugees experience an additional burden due to their age and associated conditions. In a report published by the Centre for Policy on Ageing and Age UK, they identified that “the main issues facing older refugees and asylum seekers are low income, the language barrier, the risk of loneliness and a lack of social networks, and possibly a loss of social status”. Reduced mobility and a high number of chronic medical conditions also greatly impact the life of an older refugee, as adequate and culturally appropriate healthcare is often difficult to access. As well, throughout their time in refugee shelters, older refugees are also more likely to experience social disintegration, the impact of negative social selection and chronic dependency on the resources of refugee shelters.

In order to promote the health and well-being of older refugees, the policies and practices impacting them must be modified to address the additional inequalities faced by this population. Even more so, the perception around older refugees as uninvolved and completely dependent must be countered. The contributions of older refugees can have far-reaching impacts on the preservation of the cultures and traditions of disposed and displaced people. The wisdom and experiences of older refugees must be harnessed through formal and informal leadership roles, to improve the welfare of all refugees.

This blog post is part of an ongoing series of blogs on addressing inequalities amongst older people. To read the first blog in the series, please click here.

Addressing Inequalities is one of the four themes of the 14th Global Conference on Ageing, which will be taking place in Toronto from 8-10 August 2018.

To learn more about the theme of Addressing Inequalities, and the 14th Global Conference on Ageing, click here.

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