Assistance to Elderly Migrants

Assistance to Elderly Migrants

1.  Starting Point

2.  Background

3.  The Merits of the Migrants

4.  Integration Policy with Recognition of Common Rules

5.  The Situation on the Labour Market

6.  Specific Problems of Senior Migrants

7.  The Health Situation of Elderly Migrants

8.  Guidance in the Public Assistance to Senior Migrants

9.  Civic Engagement

10.Creating Multicultural Centers for Seniors

11.Civil and Human Rights for Migrants



1.  The Starting Point is Article 8 of the ENGS-Manifesto:

“The welfare benefit systems should  be made available to the heterogeneous group of migrants in such a way that they may easily get access to them according to their cultural backgrounds. We support an intercultural opening and modernization of the assistance given to elderly migrants. In order to achieve this, those working for these services should obtain the relevant information directly from the groups concerned and their representatives.”


2.  Background

In the 1960s the general belief still was that the recruited foreign workers would return to their countries of origin after a few years of employment or at the latest after their retirement. Many of these migrants of the “first generation” have in the meantime become citizens of their respective European countries and spend the rest of their life there, their cildren and/or grandchildren have been born and have grown up there. Apart from these family ties to their present countries of residence, most social and health systems of their new home countries do not implicate a permanent return of this generation to their countries of origin. Most of the immigrants in Europe came and come for economic reasons, from crisis and war zones. According predictions for the future increasingly more people will come from regions that are affected by climate change and the consequences of drought and environmental disasters, for which their governments are not able to oppose the necessary alternative concepts and solutions. On our continent we have migrants in the various EU-countries with significant different backgrounds and cultures, coming from Turkey, Italy, Poland, Greece, ex-Yugoslavia, Morocco, Eritrea, Ghana, Lebanon, Somailia, Iraq, Iran, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Antilles and other countries. Among the first group of migrants that came we have the largest group of elderly people. For example in Germany alone, according to the extrapolations of the Federal Statistical Office we will have approximately 2.8 million elderly migrants in the year 2030.


3. The Merits of the Migrants

Many migrants have done pioneer work in their countries of immigration. Especially the elderly migrants made and still make a significant contribution to the success of the social life in their new home countries. Therefore one should not underestimate the potential of voluntary self-help among the first-generation immigrants in the form neighbourhood assistance. It has essentially contributed to the orientation and integration.

Furthermore, the governments should respect the significant contributions that the senior migrants have given to the economic development  in the past years.

The group of professional migrant nurses in hospitals and old peoples homes should not be forgotten who have done and are doing really important and good work.

As the group of old people with a migrant background grows bigger, it is time that not only their specific needs and wishes are heard, but that they also have equal opportunities in old age, because they also have the right to dignity in this last phase of their lives.


4.  Integration Policy with Recognition of Common Rules

Integration policy is the European social task of the future. A genuine participation of all migrants can only be achieved when integration and equality go hand in hand. This equal coexistence is a key task of an European social policy and means equal opportunities in education, employment and other social sectors. Equal participation rights and a secure residence are essential for integration.

We see integration as a process towards a life in the applicable legal framework, with social equality and cultural self-determination. We encourage people to live together in social diversity, but respecting the common and binding rules on the basis of human rights and the relevant laws of the different European countries. The recognition of human rights and the democratic and constitutional procedures as well as tolerance, respect, non violence and equality are such basic preconditions for living together. For a successful integration we need the readiness and willingness on all sides.

The prospects for senior migrants must be improved. Integration can only succeed, if not only the children, but also the senior migrants, both men and women, have the chance to learn the language of their resident country. Stereotypes and prejudices of the seniors, especially the senior migrants, are often encountered in our society. The conviction that one is not considered particularly clever, because one is a migrant, does not speak the local language so well and on top of that is old, leads to feelings of inferiority among many senior migrants. A factor for a better integration of old people with a migration background is a good knowledge of the language of their host countries.

Therefore, special language courses and other activities for the inclusion and participation of the senior migrants should be offered.

Even older illiterates cannot be excluded from literacy courses and from learning the local language. Language integration courses should be closely linked with the agencies for job placement.

Likewise, the NGOs should be supported in their activities and assistance programmes in this respect.


5.  The Situation on Labour Market

The situation on the labour market will drastically worsen in the future because there are not enough skilled workers. EU-Commissioner Spidla recommended to better integrate the immigrants, so that trained doctors among the migrants are not left to work as taxi drivers. The group of elderly people with migration background is affected especially hard by unemployment, be it for example by lack of work, lack of integration into the labour market, early disability or sub-qualification. In order to improve the chances of the migrants in the future, they must be better prepared in the schools, in order to have more chances on the labour market.

Because of poor integration into the respective society, not sufficient knowledge of the language, not enough social networks and lacking integration into the labour market, these countries lose labour forces which in many countries leads to the loss of contributions towards pensions and social security, as well as of income taxes. These sums add up to billions that are being lost since many years.


6. The specific Problems of senior Migrants

The need for advice and information on age-specific questions among migrants is growing. Studies show that the health and social situation of the senior migrants compared to the native groups of the same age is significantly worse. Seniors with migrant background more often retire earlier from active work, more often have financial limitations and difficulties to communicate because of language deficits. These are obstacles for a more active participation in the public life. After their working life they want to remain active, but do not know how they should do this.

Since the group of old people with migrant background is  steadily growing bigger, it is about time that not only their specific needs and wishes are heard, but that they also have equal opportunities in old age.

The negative points the older migrants often see in their new home countries are the unfriendly almost xenophobic mentality and the lacking respect for old age. Senior migrants face the special danger of a manifold discrimination  and this requires a specific policy and culturally sensitive services as outlined in the “Recommendation 1619, EU-Parliament, 2003 for the rights of senior migrants”.


–       Regarding the group of senior migrants that need special protection, one should reflect on the consequences for themselves and for the society that arise out of their present situation for the future.

–       A specific programme for the general support of senior migrants should be elaborated.

–       The politics for senior citizens must focus on the very heterogeneous group of migrants that do not enable simple standard solutions due to their different ethnic, religious and cultural origins and their different social situations of life.

–       The main problems that the senior migrants are faced with are the effects on their health or illness, housing problems and difficulties regarding their pensions.

–       A health care system for senior migrants should exist. The existing structures of health care like public health departments, hospitals and hospices and support should be adapted to the cultural needs of the senior migrants.

–       Self-help and self-organisation have to be supported.

–       Social and other auxiliary services have to be adapted or expanded to the living needs of the senior migrant families.

–       Employees who are working in all areas in which senior migrants are counselled, treated and accompanied must be offered training, supervision and peer-group courses.

–       We should also encourage public institutions, community centres, migrant organizations, cultural centres and religious institutions to provide practical information to the senior migrants on their rights to receive social assistance, pensions and health care in their host country, as well as in the country of origin. Therefore

contact between the senior migrants and their country of origin should be easier and a further requirement.

–       Model concepts for residential homes and respective initiatives adapted to the needs of the senior migrants have to be supported.

We from the ENGS engage ourselves for an intercultural opening and modernization of the politics for senior citizens through a specific cooperation with migrant organizations, counselling centres for migrants and self-help organizations.


7. The Health Situation of Elderly Migrants

In our society more and more old people look after their health, be it by watching their weight, with a healthy diet or fitness-training according to the slogan: be active – get old in good health! The growing health awareness is a positive development. Unfortunately it has not reached the senior migrants to the same extent as would be useful for them. Among them the aging  process starts about ten years earlier, due to the heavy work and living conditions during their migration period. Particularly older woman migrants are often in a worrying health condition. In order to alleviate this, we are in favour of more efforts to better inform these age groups on prevention and health promotion. Trends to retreat into their own ethnic groups must be encountered by adequate sport activities. Here we recommend to cooperate with the respective migrant organizations in the various European countries.

We need linguistically and culturally sensitive education programmes for the promotion of social and health resources of elderly people with a migrant background that can also be developed by them. Low cost offers  of course can make the access to sports more easy. Better health care in their new home countries increases the life expectancy of the migrants.

The problem is that with the aging of the migrants in the different European countries, they also increasingly become demented, which so far hardly was the case in their countries of origin. Often the relatives do not know this illness. This requires special information. Another characteristic is that migrants who become ill forget the language learned in their host countries. This means that they need a special kind of retirement homes.  In the near future, i.e. in the next 10 to 15 years, a problem may be the support of senior migrants in case of illness and treatment. Even in migrant families the way of life changes, so that the families have fewer children. Men and women maintain their jobs after the marriage, so that it is no longer natural that they take care of their parents in old age.

Our aim must be to create adapted housing forms also for senior migrants, provisions for nursing  as well as outpatient care. Relatives of dementia affected migrants must be informed on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options and must be shown the possibilities of accompanying, care and relief.  


8. Guidance in the Public Assistance to Senior Migrants

In the future, especially elderly migrants will need more help.

It cannot be denied that the barriers of access to the social services are very high for the migrants. Usually there is a lack of knowledge among the migrants in need about the existence of  social services as well as of the language skills for a successful communication.

One can also imagine, that the migrants do not have confidence in the guidance offices and their staff. Often they do not feel well understood in their present situation and are also stigmatized.

Another obstacle is their fear of the authorities and of possible xenophobic consequences.

Similarly one must also draw attention to the structural access barriers such as the distance between working place and home or the opening hours that are not compatible with the working hours of many stressed migrant families.

Therefore, in order to master this problem, it should taken into consideration that skilled persons with migrant backgrounds could also gain access to jobs in administration and social services, in order to take the migrant background into account and to realize an intercultural opening.

Our aim must be that through these professionals with a migrant background impulses can be given in all areas such as old people care, health care, education and training, migration work, self-sufficiency organizations, research, politics and adjacent areas of activity, so that they can consider the interest of the elderly migrants and improve their situation of care and living.


9. Civic engagement

Current political debates increasingly deal with the potential of elderly lying idle and the need to gain them more for social and socio-political tasks. Surprisingly the elderly migrants are hardly mentioned in this connection.

They are mostly only seen as a homogenous group with the same life background that in old age needs care and help and one ignores their rich experience, knowledge and skills also gained in the course of their life as migrants.

We engage ourselves for programs that support the cultural diversity and are adapted to the needs and interests of the migrants, in order to get them interested in participating in a civic engagement.

Of great importance for the integration process could really be the voluntary engagement of senior migrants that want to take over social and political responsibility. Their rich experience that could be of importance for the local integration is not considered accordingly. A pre-condition however is that they are made familiar with the specific organizational structures of the civic engagement in the various countries and that training and qualification are made available to them. Equally important for the contacts in voluntary work are reliable persons of confidence of both sides.

However, only a small part of the migrants are interested in this work.

Experience shows that the typical representative form of a job of honour with a strict meeting procedure is mostly rejected by the migrants. On the contrary they prefer projects in their housing and living environment that give them possibilities of codetermination and participation. For the permanent activation of these migrant groups we have to provide possibilities of informal learning, as are offered in neighbourhood centres.

One can expect that through a voluntary civic engagement of the migrants and through a better knowledge of each other’s culture the togetherness can be promoted and the prejudices on both sides can be removed (see: Competence Centre for an Intercultural Opening of the Assistance to seniors, Berlin, Ulrika Zabel)


10. Creating Multicultural Centers for Seniors

A logical step towards the integration of older migrants are multicultural senior centres and old people’s homes.

To illustrate this, there is an unique and outstanding example of an old people’s home in Duisburg, Germany: the DRK – Multikulturelles Seniorenzentrum. This multicultural old people’s home opened in 1997. Due to its technical and architectural design it has a so-called ethical objective: to take account of an increasingly growing proportion of persons of foreign origin needing care in old age.

The project has become a great success, because the conceptual considerations could be successfully realized, as well as the support and integration of the foreign citizens.

The opening of an old people’s home for persons from other cultures is not easy and requires from all concerned a constant attentive and involved perception and respective actions. With the help of empathy, sincerity and an almost unconditional mutual acceptance an atmosphere was created that aspires and often even enables a humane and participative life for the old people which is above the normal level.

A further objective: The personnel is trained interculturally and the services offered are also intercultural. This mutual learning process over many years has led to collective actions of all concerned.

The management regularly offers further multicultural training to its personnel, e.g. courses pertaining to the language as well as the customs of a certain country of origin. The teams can request special supervisions if needed which focus on cultural questions and answers.

Special multicultural facilities are offered to the residents and their relatives which for example comprise an intercultural visiting service, prayer rooms for Christians and Muslims, an international library, a weekly Mediterranean market and the organization of international festivals. In the past years 250 visiting groups from all around the world have been in this multicultural centre for seniors.


11. Civil and Human Rights for Migrants

Civil and human rights for migrants and the observance of humanitarian obligations towards refugees are core issues of the Greens in Europe.

In case of deportation to the home country especially distressed persons as sick and old people should not be deported into crisis areas. Under the international refugee law the termination of a refugee status can only come into effect if the return of those concerned to their home countries can be guaranteed in safety and dignity.

The basic human rights also apply to those people living in Europe illegally. Health care cannot be refused. Doctors, social workers and judges cannot be forced to denunciation. We demand that in all European countries a consensus can be reached to make all persons concerned an offer for legalization of their status. In Spain, France, Belgium and Greece this already exists.


–       We demand that the acquisition of a citizenship be encouraged, not its loss. Therefore we are against the restraint that only one citizenship is allowed. This is detrimental to the integration policy.

–       We demand that migrants who have been living in Germany more than 15 years and are over 54 years old can be naturalized without the required knowledge of the language and that they can keep their previous passport and that the hardship clause guarantees that older illiterates can retain their full citizenship rights.

–       We commit ourselves that the migrants who permanently live in Europe can participate in the democratic decisions in all European countries. Therefore we demand the municipal electoral rights for all foreigners, even for those coming from non-EU countries.








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