Stop ignoring elderly refugees: campaign launched to help the ‘invisible’ generation - Refugee Council
February 23, 2006

Stop ignoring elderly refugees: campaign launched to help the ‘invisible’ generation

Understanding the issues of older refugees and asylum seekers—the so-called ‘invisible’ refugees—is the aim of a major two-year project launched this month.

The Older Refugees Programme is a partnership headed by Age Concern England and The Refugee Council, which will aim to promote greater inclusion of older refugees in society and explore gaps in services for them.

Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of The Refugee Council, said that older refugees and asylum seekers were often overlooked or ignored—a trend that must stop.

“We are lucky if policies and services manage to address ‘older people’ in general, or ‘refugees’ as a group. So if you are an older refugee woman, you may not even exist in the eyes of a policymaker,” she says.

“But the complex patterns in which we live our lives—e.g. as a refugee who is also a woman and also an older person—do matter, they influence our experiences. And therefore we need to make sure that the specific needs arising from these experiences are being met.”

Work done by The Refugee Council shows that refugee women tend to be particularly isolated, suggesting that the problem is worse for older refugee women.

“There is often an assumption that older refugees will be cared for, or act as caregivers, within family networks,” says Maeve. “This is seen to reduce the need for adequate public services that meet their needs. However, not all communities have strong family ties, or even the benefit of having family members in the UK. So the role of family and social networks might be overstated and over-relied on, to the detriment of developing much needed services.”

Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern said:

“Older refugees have been invisible for far too long. The Older Refugees Programme will finally give them a voice and also help to raise awareness of their experiences and also their needs.

“We are hopeful that this project will identify opportunities for local partnership working between Refugee Community Organisations and Age Concerns to meet the aspirations of older refugees.”

The programme will involve:

  • In-depth interviews with older refugees
  • Three regional ‘listening events’ with refugee elders
  • Training and working with community researches
  • A survey of organisations working with refugee elders
  • A national conference involving policy makers and service providers

The project will be focussing initially on the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside, and London.


For further information and interviews contact press office: Chris Pitt 0207 346 1213 (Switchboard: 0207 820 3000). For urgent or out of hours inquiries ring 0870 0555500 & ask for pager 865169.

Notes to Editors:

The programme is a partnership project led by Age Concern England and The Refugee Council, and also involves Age Concern London and the Association of Greater London Older Women. The programme is funded by the Lloyds TSB Foundation for England and Wales.

“The elderly are among the most invisible groups of refugees and displaced persons.” Sadao Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1991 – 2000