Sylvester Niragira lobbies for the continued support of older refugees in a camp for Burundian refugees in Tanzania.

Untold stories: Sylvester Niragira, Tanzania

I am 56 years old and I live in the Mtendeli refugee camp in Tanzania. I came to this country to seek refuge from Burundi after the political violence that took place during disputed elections. I live with my wife and one child.
As a refugee, it is hard to get a job. You have to depend on donors for everything, including putting food on the table. 

How did you get involved in campaigning for older people’s rights?  

I saw that in the camp, older people suffer from neglect. Worse, the Tanzania Government came up with a demand that we move back to Burundi. By force, if necessary. Some within the camp here left Burundi more than 25 years ago. These people came here young but they are now old and no longer able to return to Burundi.
Personally, I left home under difficult circumstances, and things in the camp are not rosy either. I feel it is unfair to force us to leave since the situation back home is not yet stable. I found myself joining the campaign for the rights of older people. I lobby the UNHCR, HelpAge International and others to continue supporting refugees. 

Have you or people you know experienced age discrimination?  

Personally, I have never experienced any kind of discrimination but those around me have. I see older women being discriminated against or simply being neglected because of their age. Some get branded “witches” and are avoided. No one comes to their aid nor wants to associate with them.   

What are you campaigning for right now, and how are you doing it?  

At the moment, I am more involved in ensuring older people can exercise their right to water and sanitation in our camp. I also get involved in health and shelter programmes. Normally, we bring older people together and encourage them to talk freely about their feelings.
Older people are now more informed about their rights. They ask questions in meetings and demand answers. They are demanding their rights. This was not so before.

What are the challenges they still face?

There are many challenges in the camp. For example, the camp management gives people the same type of food regardless of age. Yet, they do not allow people to leave the camp to seek food that is appropriate for them, let alone to seek treatment for health problems.
For older people, the type of food we get is very bad. While HelpAge gives us some small financial help, we are neither allowed to go to the market to buy supplementary food nor let to seek alternative treatment. This is bad.

What needs to be done to improve the situation further?  

We need to increase awareness about the myths that link witchcraft with older age, as well as mobilise the community to take steps to end discrimination against older people. We want to see increased dialogue between the Tanzania Government and UNHCR to get a solution for our challenges. 
With thanks to HelpAge office in Tanzania.
Read more stories from older campaigners.