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The impact of displacement on older people

27 Jun 2012

Older people face huge challenges when they are displaced. Across the globe today, the displacement of families and communities as a result of conflict, human rights abuses and natural disasters, is a major cause of suffering, poverty and loss of life.

Displacement, particularly over the long term, is one of the major issues that governments, as well as development and humanitarian actors have to grapple with.

Sadly, the numbers of people who are forced from their homes into uncertainty continue to rise, exacerbated by climate change and migration trends.

The neglected generation

On this issue, HelpAge and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre have just jointly published a new report called "The neglected generation: The impact of displacement on older people".

There has been very little focus or attention given to how older people are specifically affected by displacement. However, we know that older people face huge challenges when they are displaced.

Imagine if your grandparents suddenly had to leave the home they had lived in their whole lives? It could be due to rising floodwaters or the impending approach of a hostile army. Then they would somehow have to get themselves to safety on foot, carrying whatever possessions they could over long distances.

Imagine if they chose to stay behind and suffer the consequences, sometimes alone, because they were too weak or sick to move? Or maybe they simply couldn’t face the thought of leaving behind the house and fields that have sustained them during their lives. This is what happened in Georgia in 2008 and in Darfur in 2004 after conflict and countless other places around the world, with devastating consequences for older men and women.

No knowledge of older people's needs

Imagine arriving at a refugee or internal displacement centre managed by predominantly young people who have little knowledge of your needs. There are no medicines to treat your chronic heart condition and you are allocated some tarpaulin with which to build your own shelter. Then you're given a sack of food aid that is so heavy you can't even carry it.

Finally, imagine that peace comes at last after many years and people start to return home and rebuild their lives. As an older person though you are afraid to go back unless you know someone can help you.

Aid agencies seem only to be providing livelihoods support to younger generations, even though you are a fit and active 60-year-old caring for your orphaned grandchildren. Unfortunately this is not an exaggeration, but the reality for many older people in the areas where HelpAge has been witness.

Aid community must stop ignoring older people

Older people deserve to live with dignity and are entitled to the same rights as younger generations – the aid community has ignored them for too long.

This report shines the spotlight on their needs and makes a plea to governments, the UN and other key actors to integrate them into much of the great work they are already doing in a thoughtful and sensitive manner.

Download The neglected generation: The impact of displacement on older people (1.4mb)

Read more about our humanitarian work to support older people

Your comments

Tesfaye Yimer

Jo Wells reviewed the recently developed publication on "The neglected generation: The impact of displacement on older people" and shared us how displaced older people are neglected and excluded by different stakeholders. I found the blog and the publication (The neglected generation) very relevant. Among others, they can help us to revisit our internal sex- and age-disaggregated data collection practices.

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Author profile

Jo Wells
Country: United Kingdom
Job title: Humanitarian Policy Manager

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.