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Older persons

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Key points
  • Do not assume older persons are visible; actively identify them.
  • Consult older persons to identify their needs and capacities as well as short comings in protection and assistance programmes.
  • Consult older persons to determine the content of food and CRI packages and make sure they can accessdistribution mechanisms.


An older person is defined by the United Nations as a person who is over 60 years of age. However, families and communities often use other socio-cultural referents to define age, including family status (grandparents), physical appearance, or age-related health conditions. The psychological and psychosocial toll of traumatic experiences, combined with poor nutrition and exposure to disease, can cause refugees and IDPs to ‘age' faster than settled populations. As a consequence, many challenges associated with old age will be apparent in refugees and IDPs who are under 60.

The needs and capacities of older persons are often overlooked in an emergency response because humanitarian actors do not register their presence or because of their weak socio-economic position. An emergency response that fully includes older persons must respond to their specific needs, dedicate resources to them,and plan and implement targeted protection initiativesin close consultation with the persons concerned, their communities, and service providers.

Main guidance

Protection objectives

  • To identify older persons and assess their needs and capacities from the start of an emergency and throughout.
  • To ensure that protection and assistance programmes are inclusive of older persons and that services are accessible to them on an equal footing.
  • To ensure that older persons do not suffer discrimination and are able to fully participate in decisions that affect them and their communities.
  • To ensure that all responses are inclusive and accessible to older persons, and consider their priorities and specific needs, by applying an age, gender, and diversity (AGD) lens.
  • To ensure that appropriate systems are in place to prevent and respond to violence against older persons during an emergency and their exploitation or abuse.
  • To recognize and build on the capacities, skills and resources of older persons.

Underlying principles and standards

The policy reinforces UNHCR's commitment to ensure that people are at the centre of all that we do. Itconsolidates commitments to a strong AGD orientation, accountability to affected people (AAP) and to women and girls. It defines six areas of engagement and ten mandatory core actions for all UNHCR operations and headquarters

Older women and men have the same basic needs as others, but become increasingly vulnerableas a result of ageing. Older persons face particular challenges during the phases of displacement, but should not be seen as passive, dependent recipients of assistance. They are often community leaders and transmit knowledge, culture, skills and crafts. UNHCR and partners must ensure their rights are met without discrimination.

Provides practical guidance on how to protect the rights of older persons of concern, and prevent discrimination.


Protection Risks

  • Older persons are often less mobile; their sight and hearing may fail; their psychosocial capacities and muscle strength may diminish; they may have chronic health problems and specific nutritional needs.
  • Forcibly displaced older persons are at heightened risk of violence, including: sexual and domestic abuse; exploitation by family members; discrimination; and exclusion from access to humanitarian assistance, education, livelihoods, health care, a nationality, and other services. These risks are compounded for women, persons with disabilities, and older LGBTI persons.
  • Unaccompanied older persons face particular challenges in emergency situations: to find adequate accommodation, protect their belongings, and obtain water, rations and fuel.
  • In emergency refugee situations, family members may be separated or die, leaving older persons without traditional forms of family support. Older persons may also become the main caregivers for their grandchildren.
  • The above risks may be heightened in non-camp settings and new displacement contexts, where the community is dispersed and community protection mechanisms may no longer function.

Other risks

  • Any failure to protect the security of persons of concern will create heightened risks for older persons.
  • The reputation of UNHCR and its partners will be put at risk if they do not fulfil their responsibility to protect all persons of concern, including older persons.


Key decision points

  • At the beginning of an emergency, consider the needs of older persons when you design shelter and settlement options, select sites, and plan and design infrastructure. Ensure minimum standards of access, and ensure that emergency distributions take steps to address the barriers that older persons might face.
  • Respond at once and adequately to the specific needs of older persons and make sure that they have access to day-to-day care.
  • Ensure that older persons are identified, registered and their needs assessed.
  • Ensure that services and infrastructure are physically accessible to older persons, in particular to those with limited mobility.
  • Establish referral systems to ensure that older persons can access relevant service providers.
  • Put in place appropriate systems to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation and abuse.
  • Make sure that programmes include older persons, and that older persons are adequately informed about programmes they are entitled to access.
  • Make sure that staff, partners and local and national authorities recognize the specific needs of older persons and know how to respond to them.
  • Ensure older persons can participate in the protection of their families and communities.
  • Particularly in non-camp settings, it is very important to establish an outreach programme, through selected partners, to identify older persons and keep them informed of matters that concern them.


Key steps

1) Support services and care arrangements

  • In camps, and at local and national level, identify service providers and potential partners who have specific expertise (medical, psychological, social support) and capacity to respond immediately.
  • In consultation with older persons, and service providers and partners, agree coordination mechanisms and set up clear arrangements for referring older persons to support services.
  • Prioritize older persons in reunification efforts. Do not separate them from family members or support persons, or their assistive devices, adaptive aids or medication (notably during relocation or transport).
  • Consult the refugee community to identify what support arrangements exist for older persons who are alone (and therefore have no support networks), care for children, or who are living in an abusive household.
  • Identify male and female volunteers in the refugee or local community (community workers) who can be trained to assist older persons and their families.
  • Conduct training and capacity building activities for partners and local service providers.

2) Identification and assessment procedures

  • Assign community workers, UNHCR protection staff or community-based protection staff to (pre-)registration points or arrival areas to identify and register older persons who have: disabilities; injuries; chronic illnesses; are survivors of abuse and neglect; are unaccompanied; are the sole caregivers of children.
  • Appoint male and female community workers, or request partners, to screen camps and settlements for older persons with specific needs who may not have been present at (pre)registration. (Older people often face problems in accessing registration points.) Older persons who have registered may be useful sources of information.
  • Include specific questions about older persons in rapid and participatory assessments. Seek to identify their priorities and any obstacles they encounter in accessing assistance. Ask older persons which forms of assistance and which referral mechanisms they find most appropriate and accessible.
  • Train registration staff, and provide guidance, on how to identify and record older persons with specific needs (who have not yet registered in ProGres).
  • Enter the specific needs of older persons into ProGres.

3) Access to services

  • Identify households with older persons who are not mobile or who cannot move easily. In consultation with them, locate them close to facilities and services when assigning plots and shelters.
  • In consultation with male and female older persons, design or adapt medical centres, distribution sites, water sources, latrines, shelters and other infrastructures so that they are safe, accessible and appropriate for older persons. (They should not have barriers or tripping hazards, and should have ramp access, large doorways, hand rails on stairs, non-slippery floors, etc.).
  • Ensure that older persons can access food or non-food item distributions. Monitor this issue. Take steps to facilitate their access where necessary. For example, you might create separate queues, provide transport, give out smaller parcels, or offer ‘home delivery'.)Work with health and nutrition partners to identify any specific dietary needs of older persons.
  • Consult older persons when deciding what items should be included in distributions (for example, smaller Jerry cans) and when designing new infrastructure. Consulting at the start can avoid expensive alterations later on.

4) Prevention of abuse and exploitation

  • Include older persons in all mechanisms that prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
  • Through community workers and other partners, monitor and follow-up older persons who are at higher risk of abuse or exploitation. Include referral mechanisms.
  • Inform and train older persons, and community workers, on how to recognize, prevent, and report instances of violence, exploitation and abuse.

5) Inclusion and information sharing

  • Refugee populations should receive key messages in a range of accessible formats, includingby radio, word of mouth, in information booklets, and in ‘easy to read' formats(text and symbols/images).
  • Involve older persons and their care-givers in decision-making and programming. Include them in the design, assessment, monitoring, and evaluation of activities.

6) Awareness-raising and advocacy

  • Inform staff and partners of the rights of older persons. Emphasize that responses need to be designed in consultation with older persons so that they are inclusive and accessible.
  • Train UNHCR and partner personnel on how to integrate the priorities and the specific needs of older persons in programmes and activities.
  • Advocate for the inclusion of older persons in national policies and programmes, including in national social protection systems.

7) Participation

  • Include older persons in livelihood activities. When identifying livelihood and training opportunities, take account of their experience, interests and abilities.
  • Include older persons in community- based mechanisms, such as refugee and women's committees.
  • Consult with communities to understand the leadership roles of older persons, and ensure these are strengthened and not undermined.
  • Identify roles for older persons in supporting programming. Include inter-generational initiatives. (For example, older people can volunteer in child and youth programmes.)


Key management considerations

  • Resources and sufficient staff must be available to meet the specific needs of older persons.
  • Assess programmes regularly to ensure they are AGD inclusive.
  • Set up a monitoring mechanism for all key steps.
  • To make this work sustainable, ensure that government services and other national partners are fully and continuously engaged in programmes and support for older persons.


Resources and partnerships


Key sectors include protection, community-based protection, and mental health and psychosocial support.

Financial resources

Should be sufficient to plan and implement necessary services, programmes, and interventions.


UN Agencies, INGOs and national NGOs, including organizations of older persons, and government institutions, including relevant ministries. Partners will often be able to provide mental health and psychosocial support, where required.


Learning and field practices

Main contacts

As first port of call, contact the UNHCR Deputy Representative (Protection), the UNHCR Assistant Representative (Protection), or the Senior Protection Officer or Senior Community-based Protection Officer in the country.

Alternatively, contact the UNHCR Head of Protection, or the Deputy Director (Protection), or the senior Protection Coordinator, or the senior Protection Officer, or the senior Community-based Protection Officer in the Regional Bureau.

The person you contact will liaise as required with the relevant technical unit at UNHCR DIP.

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