Sat 03 October 2020:
“The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold fear and suffering for older people across the world,”UN Secretary-General António Guterres said back in May.
“Beyond its immediate health impact, the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation. It is likely to have a particularly devastating impact on older people in developing countries,” he added.
Millions of older people worldwide are at greater risk of death from COVID-19, and many have reduced their social contact to cut the risk of infection.
Aside from anxiety for his health, 84-year-old Bhutanese refugee Padma Lal Timsina frets that he is becoming increasingly cut off from the family support that is so important to him in old age at the Beldangi refugee settlement in Nepal.
At one time he was surrounded by an extended family of 14 at the settlement where he has lived since 1991. But nine relatives were resettled to a third country and some who remain live in a separate part of the camp.
“Before this disease came here, we used to gather around the peepal tree, chitchat, share jokes over a cup of tea and keep ourselves entertained. Now we are confined to our house,” he said.
Among older refugees struggling with poverty and discrimination is 69-year-old Salvadoran cook Francisco, who fled to neighbouring Guatemala after street gang members murdered his wife and son in front of him.
In Guatemala, Francisco managed to find a job, but the business shuttered during the pandemic. When he returned to work after the lockdown restrictions were eased, the boss said his services would no longer be needed.
I believe she was discriminating against me because of my age,” he said. After being let go, Francisco resorted to the only way of making a living he could think of: selling food that he prepares in his small rented room as part of a programme supported by UNHCR through its partners in Guatemala.
“I never imagined having to live through something like this,” said Francisco. “I’ve had to start over. And at my age, it’s hard to find work.”
Older asylum-seekers like Francisco make up some four per cent of the population of concern to UNHCR around the world. From the Americas, to Africa and Asia, many report an already difficult life getting even harder as the pandemic grinds on.
The UN has urged governments to target policy and other measures to raise awareness of the special needs of older people. At the same time it asks for recognition for the contributions older people make to their own health and broader responses to the pandemic.