Refuge: HelpAge International

The Refuge series, a production of the Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program, chronicles how Coalition members are addressing the global refugee crisis. The second film in the four-part Refuge series features HelpAge’s work to improve the lives of older Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon. To see how HelpAge makes an impact, watch the film in the series, Refuge: HelpAge International and read the article below by Kate Bunting, the CEO of HelpAge USA. In her reflection, Kate describes the unmet health care needs of older people in local communities and how HelpAge fills this gap.

What it’s like to be an Older Syrian Refugee.
By Kate Bunting

Today, there are 25.4 million people who are refugees. Within this population, there is great diversity—not just in terms of nationality and socioeconomic background, but also in terms of age.

Older people are not commonly thought of as refugees. But increasing life expectancies and the protracted nature of many humanitarian crises should force us to rethink assumptions about who is displaced. These are important realities to consider because people in later stages of life have specific health and care needs.

It’s why HelpAge’s work in Lebanon to support Syrian refugees and host communities is so important. In a joint study with Humanity & Inclusion, we found that 77% of older Syrian refugees have specific needs and that one in seven is affected by a non-communicable disease (NCD). Many refugees, however, lack access to medicine and treatment for these conditions.

Amin’s story is a case-in-point. He is a 62-year-old Syrian refugee who has lived in Beirut, Lebanon, for the past five years. He has hypertension, but his medicine is no longer available at the local health center. He now experiences constant headaches and trembling as a result. Because he can’t afford the fee for medical appointments ($1.30 USD), he doesn’t go see the doctor. “It’s hard to say, ‘I don’t have money,’ so I’m not doing any tests or taking any medication.”

It’s precisely because so little was being done to address this urgent need that HelpAge made it our focus. HelpAge works with local partners to provide health care for older people like Amin who have an NCD, including medical consultations, laboratory tests, and medication. HelpAge supports local organizations to be more inclusive of older people—as opposed to establishing our own facilities—because we know that for change to be sustainable, it must first be endemic. We began bringing health services to the camps for this same reason—not only to increase access to care, but also as a way for refugees (who may be too afraid or unable to leave the camps) to engage with the outside community.

The challenges of being an older refugee, not to mention the life-altering change and trauma many have experienced, are overwhelming. As a result, many older refugees have health needs beyond just their physical wellbeing. In response, HelpAge provides psychosocial support activities such as peer counseling sessions, referrals for specialized mental health services, and recreational activities. These are some of the most important programs to older Syrian refugees—it’s one of the clearest messages that comes across in Refuge: HelpAge International, the second film in the four-part Refuge series.

We are so grateful to the Hilton Prize Coalition for helping us tell the story of older refugees. It’s as much a story about inclusion as it is about dignity, because for us, the two are deeply connected. The support services we provide are not just critical for health and well-being, they also help restore a sense of humanity to those whose belief in it may be shaken. But, don’t just take our word for it. Together with the Hilton Prize Coalition, we invite you to see it for yourselves when it’s released in early November.

(Photos courtesy of HelpAge USA)

About HelpAge USA

HelpAge USA is the U.S. affiliate of HelpAge International, a global non-profit dedicated to promoting the well-being and inclusion of older people. In a time of unprecedented demographic change, HelpAge advocates for health systems and policies that meet the needs of an aging world. Our programs provide older people and their families with resources and services to manage their health including screenings for non-communicable disease and eye exams to prevent blindness. In Lebanon, HelpAge has provided care and treatment to 4,000 people and trained over 600 care providers on early detection of NCDs. To learn more about HelpAge programs as well as the health challenges of an aging world, visit

About The Hilton Prize Coalition

The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit, or contact Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.


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