Speaking to older refugees in South Sudan

An older man is interviewed in Juba, South Sudan.

Thousands of people in South Sudan have been killed or injured and 1.3m people have fled from their homes, due to vicious fighting and violence. We’re working in South Sudan right now, helping older refugees. Here, we report back with the latest from Juba, South Sudan’s capital city.

What is the situation like for older people in Juba?
Older refugees in Juba are extremely vulnerable. They had already lived through decades of war when their country was part of Sudan; only to face yet more conflict and to be displaced again.

“We are not able to go outside the camp because we may be raped”, one older woman explained to us. Sexual violence is being used as a weapon against civilians and, despite what some people may think, older people are not exempt. Although the UN camp for refugees is safe, outside is a different story.

Extremely distressed
Older refugees are, understandably, extremely distressed by what they have seen and experienced. ‘I lost my husband. He was killed,’ one woman told us.

To compound matters, they have nothing to occupy them. They cannot work; they cannot plant crops; they cannot go about their normal daily business. They are left to think bitterly about what they’ve been through already and what they may face in the future. Their prospects do not look good: the UN has already talked about continued conflict, possible famine and even more displacement. Programme manager, Ibrahim Njuguna, explains: “It is clear that older people need psychosocial support.’

Going to the toilet difficult
Although they are safe in the camps, older people face challenges due to their age and their limited mobility. The latrines are too far away from the tents to which they have been allocated and there are no rails inside to support them.

We are currently working with other agencies to make sure that latrines in camps are accessible – big enough for two people to go into if a frail older person needs help, and with rails to hold onto.

How are we helping?
As well as emergency essentials like blankets and torches, we’re providing:
• Sleeping mats for older people, so their skin and joints won’t be badly harmed when they have to sleep on the ground
• Age-friendly toilets that have bars to grab onto and are large enough for two people, for when an older person needs extra assistance
• Walking sticks and glasses which, although simple, can make all the difference to a vulnerable older person
• Counselling for emotional trauma
• Advice and support to other aid agencies – to make sure that any aid distributed takes into account the needs of older people

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