This module investigates the field of migrant integration through networking with host society elderly communities.
Older people and intergenerational cohesion
In current societies, both migrants and seniors are considered as disadvantaged groups, therefore there are many activities and programs dedicated to them and their social and communal engagement and activation. Both can face isolation and many projects and initiatives are emerging, such as the Senior Volunteers for Migrant Integration European project or Silver Service project. They exemplify that senior citizens can support migrant integration and stay active in society.
An ageing population is an emerging phenomenon – the share of those aged 80+ almost doubled between the years 2001 and 2020.
As the numbers of elderly people in European countries are rising, studies show that loneliness is an emerging health problem for seniors. Both older adults and migrants are vulnerable to loneliness, and community-based interventions can help reduce loneliness for all older adults in a community.
In Sweden for example, an initiative to connect migrants and pensioners emerged in the field of housing, when the city of Helsingborg created a unique housing project where pensioners and migrants live side-by-side.ç
çIn central Italy, an interesting initiative bringing together migrants and elderly inhabitantstook place. They were meeting on weekly basis, spending time together and sharing experiences, stories and culinary recipes. The leitmotif of the project was to foster integration and fight prejudice.
Senior citizens are considered prone to disinformation and fake-news about migration, therefore activities cultivating relationships between migrants and elderly members of European societies are considered as a key element of building bridges between newcomers and locals. Activities like this try to increase connectedness and sustain active participation and increase inclusion of both groups in current societies. So, the second impact/ benefit is raising awareness of the volume of false or misleading images of “the others”.
At the same time, migrants and refugees make their mark upon their new location, whether by filling skills gaps, providing care, generating increased demand for public services, or bringing new and diverse cultural perspectives to communities.
Good Practice Box – Migrants with seniors talk time
In the Democratic Educational Centre in Prague, the team was implementing regular project activity aimed at connecting migrants and elderly citizens. The activity consisted of organising a get together of a group of seniors and one migrant. This usually took place in an institution where the elderly people are organised, such as retirement homes, senior clubs, unions, or local community centres. In these places, various free time, educational and cultural activities, such as workshops, courses, community meetings, consultations and lectures take place. It is here, where many Czech elderly people are gathering, socialising, learning new things and spending their free time. Community places like this help to prevent seclusion and alienation of people of post-productive age.
A selected migrant living in the CR was offered an opportunity to visit seniors in a particular place and organise an event about his country of origin. Before the event took place, the migrant was cooperating with the Democratic Education facilitator to plan a program of the event. This usually involved drafting a structure of the content, creating a PowerPoint presentation with visual materials related to the given country of origin. During this, the migrant participant also practised and utilized his digital skills, such as working with a laptop, downloading photos, creating a presentation, writing short texts and so on with assistance of the facilitator. He/she also created narrative content of his/her oral speech in Czech, focusing on a new vocabulary and grammar issues. The participant was given advice about the specifics on how to approach the target group of an elderly community and possible reactions. Overall, during the preparatory phase, the migrant was able to get confidence and self-realization while practising various useful skills and creating something according to his/her own ideas and wishes.
During the event the participant got to debate with the elderly visitors, answer their questions about his/her country of origin, migration experience, and current life in the CR. At the same time, the migrant got to meet and know the local elderly people, practice Czech conversation, and learn about their views and problems.
Both groups, the migrants and the seniors mutually benefited from these events. Often, this activity was a first opportunity for the migrant to experience public speaking and getting deeper in touch with local elderly people. The activity proved to successfully contribute to cross-cultural interactions and understanding and capacity-building of both groups. The migrants generally had rewarding feelings of empowerment and motivation by enhancing and practising new skills and gaining new competencies and experiences that could be also valuable in their personal life and labour market. The crucial element was the fact that the activity was conducted independently, with only a supportive assistance of the facilitator during the preparatory phase and during the implementation itself.
Organisation for Aid to Refugees in Prague also runs a similar educational activity, but focuses on various rural regions in the CR where the general population and seniors are more impacted by prejudice and low intercultural awareness. The migrant is accompanied by an Organisation´s lecturer, who informs the senior participants about the facts about foreigners and migration in the CR taking into account the context of the particular migrant’s story. Here, seniors learn new things and relevant information about the current issue of migration and moreover get direct personal experience of getting to know a migrant living in a local area.
While migrants and seniors are put together to learn from each other, share their free time actively, it is suggested to involve interactive content. As proved in our State of the Art Report, migrants often have various hobbies and interesting skills connected with their home country. Many low-skilled migrant women claimed to have an interest in crocheting, knitting and sewing.
Activities like this help to activate both the migrant and the seniors and both parties benefit from get-together events, fostering social connections and a sense of belonging for all participants. By actively participating on creating events for seniors, migrants get a sense of accomplishment, achievement and fulfilment by positively contributing in the new society. They can also widen their social networks by encountering a specific group of locals closely.
Spending time together with seniors can help enabling migrants to gain confidence through positive interactions and consequently be empowered.
As seniors is a group in society often exposed and affected by disinformation and fake-news about various topics, including migrants and refugees, building bridges between migrants and local elderly communities is a relevant and current model of community building activities. During the practise suggested the seniors got to meet a foreigner living in the CR and learn about his/her story, home country and challenges he/she is facing living in a new country. This contributed to preventing misinformation and xenophobic attitudes in this part of society, as personal experience, and knowledge of meeting a migrant proves to be a significant solution.
ANSA (2019): Migrants meet seniors in Jesi, Italy, as part of integration project.
Cacioppo, John T. & Cacioppo, Stephanie (2018): The growing problem of loneliness.
European Commission (2021): An Ageing Population.
Orange, Richard (2019): Swedish town to integrate refugees by housing them with pensioners.
Orton, Andrew (2012): Building migrants’ belonging through positive interactions.
Senior Volunteers for Migrant Integration.