Displaced Elders

Displaced elders, and older people comprise 8.5% of people of concern to United Nations HIgh Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNHCR Policy on Older Refugees (2000) affirms the aim that displaced elders: "...live their latter years in dignity and security, contributing actively to their families and communities for as long as it remains possible for them to do so, and are offered care and support if they become physically or mentally frail."

This requires occupational opportunities that build on the elder's existing roles to contribute to their wellbeing, and also the peace and reconciliation measures for the community. 

In brief

  • Elders face the same challenges inherent to displacement, along with additional vulnerabilities and risks due to their age and life stage.
  • The UNHCR recognises elders as persons with "special needs" like those chronically unwell, disabled, or experiencing high levels of trauma.
  • In some situations, elders are disproportionate in a displaced population when younger able-bodied people have already pressed on to search for durable solutions.
  • Families are often faced with impossible choices and may abandon elders in order to survive.
  • Elders are invisible, generally neglected in research, poilcy, and humanitarian responses to displacement.
  • Elders have occupational skills and roles; conributing to household income, child care, community leadership and mediation. 
  • Women who are elders need additional protection as they have the responsibility to care for children whose parents have dies, are lost, or migrated on.
  • Elders face considerable challenges to health and welfare on settlment as their social fabric has disintegrated, and life roles change once again.

Elders in Afghanistan

Photo Credit: Afghanistan Matters

Learn More

Engaging Refugee Elders - UNHCR Settlement Handbook United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The neglected generation: The impact of displacement on older people (2012) Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Research Resources; Older Persons Forced Migration Online.

Enhancing the Lives of Older Refugees (2011) Wall. S, Santalucia. Y, Salem. M, Giacomin. D, McDonald. R and Bosnjak. F.   

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