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Help for older Myanmar refugees is 'falling short'

Rights group laments how older people fleeing military attrocities are slipping through the humanitarian assistance net

ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok

ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok

Updated: June 18, 2019 06:13 AM GMT
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Help for older Myanmar refugees is 'falling short'

An elderly Rohingya refugee from Myanmar is seen here at Unchiprang refugee camp near Teknaf in Bangladesh in this on Nov. 15, 2018 file photo. (Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)

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The rights and needs of thousands of older people forced to flee atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military are not being adequately addressed by the humanitarian system, according to rights group Amnesty International.

Older people’s rights and dignity are not being respected amid conflict and crisis, as well in the provision of humanitarian assistance the rights group said in a report released June 18.

The report “Fleeing my whole life: Older people’s experience of conflict and displacement in Myanmar,” is an in depth look at how the needs of older people are overlooked by the humanitarian community, said Matthew Wells, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International.

“Tens of thousands of older women and men are among the more than one million people displaced to camps as a result of conflict and military abuse. The humanitarian community has responded admirably to crisis after crisis, saving many lives. But older people are slipping through the cracks, their specific needs often overlooked. The humanitarian response must become more inclusive,” Wells said

The report is based on 146 interviews with older women and men from the Kachin, Lisu, Rakhine, Rohingya, Shan, and Ta’ang ethnic minorities.

In the Bangladesh refugee camps, many older Rohingya women and men are unable to regularly access the most basic of services, including sanitation, health care, water, and food. The camps’ congestion and hilly terrain make for a difficult environment, particularly for older people with limited mobility, the report said.

In northern Myanmar, where many ethnic Kachin have been displaced since 2011, some humanitarian programs, particularly for livelihood support, under-include older people. Older people also face discrimination in accessing work, which has a cascade of negative effects, compounded by a decrease in humanitarian assistance in recent years, due to donor fatigue and an expectation that people in the IDP camps can access work in surrounding areas, the report stated.

“I’ve approached the employers and said I want to work,” said Zatan Hkawng Nyoi, a 67-year-old ethnic Kachin woman who had spent her whole working life farming before being displaced.

“They said I’m too old, that I won’t be able to walk that far to [the paddy fields],” she said.

These people in general, and older women in particular, are also under-represented in camp leadership, denying them a voice in decision-making, the report states.

“Older people need to be better included in all aspects of humanitarian response — from having their voices inform initial assessments to being involved in assistance programs. Responding more effectively to older people’s rights begins with engaging their unique skills and perspective,” Amnesty’s Wells said.

“Donor governments must provide greater support … and ensure that implementing partners are assessing and meeting older people’s specific needs,” he added.

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