What is it like to grow old in a refugee camp?

Hassan and his caretaker in their shelter at the Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya. Photo: LWF Kenya

People who flee their homelands to refugee camps don’t want to stay there. They want to go home. But for many, returning is not an option. The conditions that caused them to flee persist. And that unsettled situation can last for decades.

For many young people, a refugee camp is the only home they know. But for many elderly people, their dream of returning to their homeland fades a bit more each day. They must make peace with the likelihood that a refugee camp is where they’ll take their last breath.

Hassan fled his home in Kismayu, Somalia and arrived at the Kambioos Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya in 1992, when he was 77 years old. Today, he is 100 and still living in the camp with his extended family, with no prospect of returning.

When asked about going back to Kismayu, his home, he says: “No. I would rather die here than go back. My son listens to radio news every evening and tells me all about the insecurity in Somalia.”

Hassan is among the 81 elderly whom The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Kenya, with the support of Lutheran World Relief, is supporting in the Kambiioos Refugee Camp. We are providing, among other things, food vouchers and relief goods, as well as psycho-social aid to vulnerable people in Dadaab.

Since 2008, LWR has worked with the Lutheran World Federation’s Department for World Service, with the support of the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrants.

LWR’s work focuses on the Dagahaley, Hagadera and Kambioos camps is providing psycho-social support to refugees, promoting refugee rights and leadership within the camps by providing training to community leaders, and supporting neighboring communities by ensuring access to hygiene and sanitation.

LWR and LWF recognize that elderly refugees have special needs that require targeted care. Like many elderly people, Hassan faces challenges in life. He is bedridden, almost blind in one eye and has difficulty hearing. He is also starting to suffer from pressure sores. Because he has lost almost all his teeth, he can no longer eat solid food and mostly drinks milk. The food provided to refugees by the World Food Program is not appropriate for his condition and he says it lacks essential nutrients for elderly.

He has been provided a thick mattress, kitchen utensils and a solar lamp. He has also been enrolled in a voucher program so he can buy fresh food. “This is a Godsend,” Hassan says. “The voucher came at a time where I needed it most.”

This entry was adapted from an article, Special care for elderly refugees in Kenya, on the LWF website.