Pandemic makes life harder for older refugees in Latin America |
The global crisis is affecting their well-being and their access to vital rights and services, exacerbating pre-existing threats to their physical and mental health, nutrition, finances and legal status.
“The forcibly displaced elderly have long been neglected and insufficiently protected. Their full inclusion in national responses to the pandemic, including COVID-19 vaccination plans, is essential to safeguard their dignity and rights, ”said Jose Samaniego, Director of UNHCR’s Regional Office for the Americas.
Challenges in healthcare
The study, titled A claim for dignity: aging on the move, focuses on five countries: Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru.
Overall, 865 older people participated by phone and consultations were also held with caretakers, service providers and other key staff through interviews and online surveys.
Most of those interviewed reported limited access to health care. Forty-two percent were not receiving treatment for previous conditions, while six percent of those infected with COVID-19 said they had not received adequate care.
Older displaced people have also seen a reduction in daily contact with their families, as well as limited community activities or recreational opportunities, which has dramatically worsened feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Miss more meals
Before the pandemic, one in four people had to skip meals, and the crisis caused 41% to further reduce their food intake.
Agapito Escobar, 64, left his native Colombia two decades ago and found refuge in neighboring Ecuador, where he lives with his wife, Wilma, 79.
“There are days when we only have breakfast… and in the afternoon we just drink a glass of water,” he told UNHCR. The couple are also relying on candle light as their electricity has been cut due to a lack of payment.
Job losses and evictions
Meanwhile, 64% of those surveyed had no monthly income before the pandemic. Of those who did, 62% felt it was not enough to meet their basic needs.
Many others saw their economic situation worsen, with a third of those interviewed in Honduras losing their jobs. The figure was closer to half in the Andean region.
“In addition to increased humanitarian support, older displaced people need better livelihood opportunities to become financially independent,” Samaniego said.
Despite their increased vulnerability, many older people said they still had to serve as breadwinners for their households, as well as caregivers for other family members.
Sixty percent look after children and 5 percent look after people with disabilities. A fifth of those polled said their housing conditions deteriorated because they could not afford rent, and five percent were evicted.
“Urgent change is needed”
The pandemic has also intensified the challenges these elderly people face in obtaining documents. Almost a quarter of “older people on the move” in the Andean region have an irregular status, rising to 32% among people with disabilities.
“Aging and human mobility are global trends, the intersectionality of which manifests itself in poverty and exclusion, while older people are treated as if they were invisible,” said Marcela Bustamante, HelpAge regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Governments and the international community must do everything to enable older people on the move to live with dignity. Urgent change is needed. ”