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Work of Intergovernmental and Nongovernmental organizations

INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS (ICRC)

The ICRC has been mandated by the international community to "work for the faithful application of humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts". Its role is to protect the civilian population; visit prisoners and detainees; provide emergency medical and food aid and rehabilitation services; restore contact between separated family members and facilitate family reunification; and promote knowledge of international humanitarian law. The ICRC often exerts influence discreetly, in direct contact with the parties, but can also decide to go public when confidentiality does not achieve the desired results. Its role in the protection of civilians and other non-combatants is particularly important because it usually enjoys the respect of all the parties to a conflict.

Under various resolutions adopted since the early 1920s, later strengthened by provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the ICRC has traditionally paid special attention to the plight of the elderly (which it defines as those over 65). Its Plan of Action for the years 2000-2003, adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, contains a number of measures intended to improve the care and protection of victims of armed conflicts and more generally of the most vulnerable people, including the elderly.

In a statement made to the Conference, the ICRC expressed particular concern over the situation of the elderly in the former USSR, the Balkans and Eastern Asia since the end of the cold war, where economic vulnerability is exacerbated by violent conflict, isolation and physical handicaps. The report describes protection and assistance measures to the elderly, including family reunification, by components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in recent and ongoing conflicts in Abkhazia, Chechnya, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. In addition, help was given in obtaining the release of elderly detainees in Cambodia, Tajikistan, Rwanda andColombia; and in facilitating evacuation of elderly persons from areas where their security could not be guaranteed in Congo-Brazzaville, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Additional information on the work of ICRC can be found on its website, www.icrc.org

UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR)

The UNHCR is the main international agency established for the protection of refugees. As the armed conflicts of the past decade have generated ever increasing flows of refugees, the agency has also assumed an important role in providing relief assistance. On the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons in 1997, the High Commissioner recognized that "The elderly are among the most invisible group of refugees and displaced persons" and pledged to increase UNHCR's efforts at improving awareness, policy planning and projects for older refugees.

A subsequent evaluation entitled UNHCR Assistance to Older Refugees, based on surveys and field visits in Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Russia, Sudan and Yemen, identified problems and proposed solutions for the agency's work. The study recommends mainstreaming the needs and potential contribution of older refugees in existing programs rather than setting up special mechanisms.

Together with the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), UNHCR also commissioned a study of older persons in emergencies undertaken by HelpAge International (HAI). The study, entitled The Ageing World and Humanitarian Crisis: Guidelines for Best Practice, addresses situations of armed conflict as well as natural disasters, and is based on interviews with older refugees in Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Rwanda and Bosnia and with the agencies serving them. It has helped formulate guidelines and indicators for the work of humanitarian agencies in all sectors from health to shelter. The study emphasizes the importance of inclusion of older persons in existing mechanisms rather than the establishment of separate services.

In 2000, UNHCR adopted a new Policy on Older Refugees (EC/50/SC/CRP.8, Annex I) inspired by the commitments and principles adopted by governments towards older persons. The policy identifies the severe plight of older refugees resulting from social disintegration and family separation, lack of support, abandonment and destitution; it provides for a variety of measures to ensure the incorporation of age-sensitive protection and assistance criteria in addressing the needs and vulnerabilities of older persons, and ensuring their participation in existing programs.

As a tool for policy planning and implementation, UNHCR has also begun collecting statistics on older refugees (defined as those over 60). A 2001 report entitled Women, Children and Older Refugees: The Sex and Age Distribution of Refugee Populations with a Special Emphasis on UNHCR Policy Priorities, estimates that approximately 10% of the 15 million refugees of concern to the agency in 115 countries, are older persons. 

Many NGOs active in areas of armed conflict are partners with UNHCR. The current Field Guide for NGOs includes a chapter on older refugees to ensure that their needs are taken into account in the work of these organizations.

Additional information on the work of UNHCR can be found on its website, www.unhcr.ch


UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES IN THE NEAR EAST (UNRWA)

Well over three fourths of the Palestinian population (about 800,000 people) fled or was driven from the country during the war which resulted in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The original Palestinian refugees and their descendants are the largest single refugee population in the world, numbering over 4 million in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. UNRWA was established in 1949 as the primary UN agency to provide education, health, and relief and social services to the refugees pending a final settlement of the conflict. The agency compiles comprehensive statistics on the refugee population, and estimates that approximately 12% of the total are over the age of 55. The agency does not list special programs for these older refugees in its documentation, which can be found on its website, www.un.org/unrwa

Prepared by the International Human Rights Education Group for Global Action on Aging (ihredu@yahoo.com)

 

 


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