Academic journal article Refuge

The Path to Integration: Meeting the Special Needs of Refugee Elders in Resettlement

Academic journal article Refuge

The Path to Integration: Meeting the Special Needs of Refugee Elders in Resettlement

Article excerpt

Abstract

Refugee elders in resettlement represent a small but very vulnerable population. Regardless of age, vitality, or employability, elders play a critical role in upholding a family strength and stability through the difficult period of forced migration. Yet, most resettlement countries provide few services to elders beyond those given to the whole family in the forms of housing, income support, and health care. The lack of elder-specific services may be the result of limited resettlement numbers, inadequate resources, or unfamiliarity with elders' unique needs. This article discusses the many common needs and challenges of refugee elders through a literature review and follows with recommendations for interventions and integration activities. The authors suggest that skillful needs assessment and creative program design can help to restore elders' dignity and vitality, thereby strengthening the family unit. The article is based on the authors' experiences as technical assistance advisers to over 130 private and public refugee elder programs in the United States from 1997 to 2000.

Introduction

Refugee elders in resettlement reflect the broad diversity of the world's refugee populations but are fewer in number compared to younger age groups. Therefore, assessing needs and challenges requires a careful review of resettlement numbers over several decades as elders newly arrive and age in place. Before assessing needs, it is important to analyze both national and local refugee demographics. The United States, for example, has resettled approximately 1.8 million refugees since 1980. In 2000 there were over 173,000 refugees age sixty or older in the United States, with the largest numbers concentrated in the states of California and New York. By country of origin, the largest numbers of elder refugees in the United States are from the former Soviet Union, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. (1) The relatively small numbers of refugee elders, their ethnic diversity, and their geographic dispersion can cause their special integration needs in resettlement to be overlooked. The goal for service providers is to recognize the common challenges faced by all elders, place these challenges in their cultural and migratory contexts, and modify services to be respectful, culturally appropriate, useful, and life-enhancing.

   Case Study: An Iraqi Elder in the United States

   Mrs. Aziz, age fifty-nine, is a Kurdish refugee from northern Iraq who was
   resettled in the United States in 1997. She came with her husband, age
   sixty-two, and their single, adult daughter. The family shares a
   one-bedroom apartment in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Although she is not
   old enough to qualify for age-based cash assistance from the government,
   Mrs. Aziz receives disability-based cash assistance due to severe arthritis
   in her knees. Soon after her arrival, she underwent knee replacement
   surgery and was confined to her apartment during the long and painful
   recovery. Mrs. Aziz speaks no English and is semi-literate in Kurdish. As
   her husband also speaks no English, Mrs. Aziz is heavily dependent upon her
   daughter for help in negotiating the medical system, public benefits
   system, and other American institutions. Her daughter works full-time and
   attends classes in the evenings, so she has very little time to spend with
   her parents. Mrs. Aziz is frequently depressed and misses her five other
   adult children and her grandchildren who are scattered, some in Iraq and
   some in Europe. She often worries about them, especially the two children
   remaining in Iraq. She feels isolated in her apartment. There are a few
   other Kurdish families in the building, but all are much younger, and they
   work and attend school during the day and evenings. In Iraq, Mrs. Aziz
   lived with several of her children and their families in a large home with
   a garden. She knew all of her neighbours and was accustomed to frequent
   visits by friends and family. … 
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