The global crisis is damaging their well-being and access to vital rights and services, increasing pre-existing threats to their physical and mental health, nutrition, finances and legal status.
“Older people in forced displacement have long faced neglect and insufficient protection. Their full inclusion in national pandemic responses, including in COVID-19 vaccination plans, it is essential to safeguard their dignity and rights “, She said Jose Samaniego, Director of UNHCRof the Regional Office for the Americas.
Challenges in healthcare
The study, entitled A claim of dignity: aging in motion, focuses on five countries: Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru.
Overall, 865 older people attended by telephone and consultations with guardians, service providers and other key staff were also held through online interviews and surveys.
Most respondents reported limited access to health care. Forty-two percent were not receiving treatment for previous conditions, while six percent of people infected with COVID-19 said they had not received adequate care.
Displaced elders also saw a reduction in daily contact with their families, as well as limited community activities or opportunities for recreation, which greatly aggravated feelings of loneliness and isolation.
More meals are missing
Before the pandemic, one in four had to skip meals and the crisis led 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 79-year-old wife Wilma.
“There are days when we only have breakfast … and in the afternoon we only drink a glass of water”, he told UNHCR. The couple also rely on candlelight as their electricity was cut off due to non-payment.
Job losses and evictions
Meanwhile, 64% of respondents had no monthly income prior to the pandemic. Of those who did, 62% felt it was not enough to meet their basic needs.
Many others have seen their economic situation deteriorate, with a third of respondents in Honduras losing their jobs. The figure was closer to half in the Andean region.
“In addition to increased humanitarian support, elderly displaced people need more livelihood opportunities to become financially independent,” Samaniego said.
Despite their greater vulnerability, many older people said they still have to serve as breadwinners for their families, as well as carers for other family members.
Sixty percent deal with children and five percent deal with people with disabilities. A fifth of respondents said housing conditions worsened as they could not afford rent, and five percent were evicted.
“We need an urgent change”
The pandemic has also intensified the challenges these seniors face in obtaining documentation. Almost a quarter of the “elderly on the move” in the Andean region have an irregular status, rising to 32% among the disabled.
“Aging and human mobility are global trends, the intersection 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 possible to enable older people on the move to live in dignity. We need an urgent change ”.