Haweyah Khawis, born in 1909, lived more than 100 years in Homs, Syria, until two months ago when she was smuggled to the Jordanian border accompanied by Anoud, her daughter-in-law.
When IRIN spoke to her she seemed a bit confused: “Homs is damaged. I heard sounds and sounds.”
The elderly are an especially vulnerable group, often needing higher levels of assistance than their struggling families can provide, and many of them are doubly disadvantaged by failing to register with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Jordan.
“UNHCR cannot give an exact number of those elderly who have not registered with them. For the elderly it can be a bigger challenge to register with UNHCR due to the fact that some of them may not be mobile," UNHCR external relations officer Aoife McDonnell told IRIN.
Aid workers from the Syrian Women’s Association (SWA) and the Islamic Charity Centre Society (ICCS) in Jordan, who are working closely with the refugees, say the numbers of the elderly in need are considerable.
“Unfortunately, we do not have a plan to help this marginalized group yet. But we know some of them need wheelchairs, diapers, and medication as their children come and tell us,” Khaled Ghanem of ICCS told IRIN.
“People at this age need medication for ongoing problems such as diabetes and blood pressure, which we do our best to provide when they ask for it,” said a volunteer doctor at the ICCS centre in Mafraq (town near Syrian border).
“We only provide them with mattresses, blankets, heaters. Lack of income means people are not eating properly, which makes elderly people’s health worsen every day,” said Ghanem.
“Some need surgery for disc-related pains, but unfortunately, we cannot help them. There are others who need physiotherapy and we turn them away when they ask for help,” he added.
According to aid workers, elderly refugees are more likely to suffer from depression after being displaced to a new country, especially when their new living conditions are bad.
Lamya*, 61, fled to Jordan with her brother and his family after she lost her only child during the crackdown on protesters.
“They registered me on the same card with my brother. Can you imagine someone at my age asking my brother for money to get on the bus? Can you imagine living with my sister-in-law and so many children in one room?” she said with eyes full of tears.
“There is an urgent need for psychologists to provide support for the elderly. We lack expertise in this field. They need support as they have been hit badly by the crisis," said ICCS’s Ghanem.
“Providing tertiary health care is a challenge as it is too expensive. Some donors can be reluctant to pay for it as the cost of one [tertiary] treatment sometimes covers the cost of 200 cases primary health care," said McDonnell.
According to UNHCR in late June, 33,079 Syrian refugees have been registered in Turkey, 26,941 in Jordan, 22,530 in Lebanon and 5,839 in Iraq.
*Not a real name