Forgotten voices of the Syrian Crisis

30 Sep 2013   |   Blog   |   Syria   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  older persons, Syrian refugees, elderly, Refugees   |   No comments

Older Syrian woman

Older Syrian man

The crisis in Syria has had devastating effects on the Syrian people. Hundreds of thousands of children, women and men are in need of urgent humanitarian aid. But one group of people are often forgotten in these crisis situations – the elderly.

After noticing that large numbers of the Syrian refugees registering for assistance were older people, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (Caritas Australia’s network partner) recently commissioned research into the needs of older refugees affected by the Syrian crisis.

Older refugees have particular constraints and needs

The research found that many of the older refugees had issues and needs which were different to other refugees. Some of these were:

  • Poor health status, with many older refugees reporting at least one chronic health problem. A substantial number reported they had left Syria because they could no longer access the medical care they required because hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or dismantled.
  • Disability was also another significant issue, with 10% of older refugees physically unable to leave their homes.
  • Many elderly refugees also spoke of traumatic experiences while in Syria, including being trapped for several weeks or months, or deaths of family members (often sons).
  • A high proportion reported mental health concerns, with many feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, or that they were a burden to their families.

Despite these needs, older refugees are often overlooked. As Fr Faddoul, President of Caritas Lebanon said, “We know from experience that older persons suffer in silence, quietly stepping aside so that younger members of their families can access services and aid.” One of the most poignant and illustrative findings of the research was that some of the older people reported that they had been eating less food in order to leave food for younger members of the family.

Meet Fatima

Here is the story of Fatima, a 75 year old refugee who was interviewed –

Fatima came to Lebanon with her whole family only after the Syrian military lifted a siege on her home town of Homs. They had been trapped in their damaged home for some time, with nowhere to go.

“Despite all the violence, I never wanted to leave my country. But when my family couldn’t stand it any longer, they brought me with them to Lebanon. I never wanted to leave my home, but my family said, ‘Who will take care of you?’, and they insisted that I come with them.”

Fatima’s age and poor health make her dependent on others for the basics of everyday life. Her daughter-in-law helps her get dressed, go to the bathroom, and with the household chores. “I do what I can to help cook, but it’s not much. I can’t help as much as I want to, and I feel like a burden to my daughter-in-law.

I’m ashamed that I need her so much.”

“In Syria, I was a grandmother and I helped my family. Here, the life is so difficult, things are so expensive, and I am just another worry for my family.”

Older refugees are of great value

Older refugees should not be seen as passive recipients of aid; they possess knowledge and experience that is unique, important, and of great value to refugee communities."

Despite the many challenges, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center report also reminds us of the great strength and value of older people in societies which are shattered by humanitarian crises. Older people are often:

  • Symbols of stability and continuity of family in tumultuous times – they provide a sense of cultural identity, preserving customs and traditions
  • Able to contribute to the family through looking after the children (especially when parents aren’t present), and helping out with household chores
  • Respected and non-threatening members of society – as such, they can play an important role as negotiators and peace-makers. They are able to help other family members negotiate for places to live, jobs, and tolerance with non-refugee populations.

The Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center’s research has highlighted the importance of remembering older refugees in these times of crisis, as they are often the ‘forgotten voices’. Fr Simon Faddoul writes, “We value the human dignity, the contribution, and the protection of all human beings, at all stages of life. We in Caritas Lebanon consider this study as a means to give a voice to those older persons in this time of emergency. They are our grandfathers and grandmothers, our uncles and aunts, and we owe it to them in this time to care for their needs, as they have cared for ours as we were growing up.”

Read the full report - Forgotten Voices: An insight into older persons among refugees from Syria in Lebanon

Find out more and donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal

Syrian refugee family

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