Dear friends and colleagues,Flight and exile divide millions of refugee families worldwide. The reality for many refugees is that they have lost track of their families or have had to leave them behind for economic or safety reasons.
The family however plays an essential role to help persons rebuild their lives and can provide critical support to adapt to new and challenging circumstances. Restoring families can also ease the sense of loss that accompanies many refugees who, in addition to family, have lost their country, network and life as they knew it.
Even so, family reunification may take time and that the rules for family reunification are strict. Some never get granted their application, while others have to wait for several years. This is straining both on those who came first and they are waiting to come by. Being separated is a serious trauma for many people, but strangely enough it is often not spoken about, and family reunification is often not put in the forefront, neither by therapists or policy makers.
This quote points clearly to a major point related to this;
”Armed conflict and war trauma are seen as the violence of others,
whereas an examination of prolonged separations highlights Western administrative violence” (Rousseau et al, 2001)
When families get back together there are of course great expectations involved. Fear, uncertainty and waiting have preceded the reunification. But the situation may also involve difficult or ambivalent feelings. Many years apart do something with both parties. Little contact during the waiting may have created distance or feelings of distrust. This is important to talk about, to explore and to deal with, as a way of creating the best possible reunification and hopefully reduce some of the stresses involved. And it is important to convey that other families are experiencing some of the same feelings in the beginning. Raising awareness about the situation in itself can thus be of great help and assistance in this process from the host society, and may be an important preventive initiative.
It might also be helpful to know more of the rights related to family reunification and what to expect. We have collected some useful publications related to family reunification.
Articles, publications and websites that highlight different aspects of Family Reunification:
- Family reunion for refugees in the UK Understanding support needs
The study highlighted evidence of need for family reunion support. Almost 5000 visas for dependents of individuals with refugee status or humanitarian protection were issued in the UK in 2010. The British Red Cross, the main provider of family reunion travel assistance in the UK, supported just over 100 family members through this programme (White and Hendry, British Red Cross 2011).
- UNHCR guidelines on reunification of refugee families
The note restates the position of the Office concerning the types of family reunification promoted by UNHCR, the categories of persons eligible for assistance, and the action to be taken by UNHCR Headquarters, by the Field Offices, and by refugees themselves to achieve the reunification of refugee families under various circumstances (UNHCR 1983).
- Disrupted flight the realities of separated refugee families in the EU
Available research shows that family separation tends to be associated with poor mental and physical health, which then has an impact on peoples’ ability to learn a language, look for a job, re-train, or simply interact with others (including with officials and administrations).3 Long separation can also damage the family structure and cause conflict when the family is reunited. By way of contrast, various studies document the positive effect of family reunification, particularly on people’s general well-being, but also on their employment prospects and on the educational achievement of their children (Red Cross 2014).
- Background note for the agenda item: family reunification in the context of resettlement and integration protecting the family: challenges in implementing policy in the resettlement context
The five guiding principles that sustain UNHCR efforts to protect family unity, and to promote and facilitate family reunification in the resettlement process (UNHCR 2001).
- Engaging refugee families in therapy: exploring the benefits of including referring professionals in first family interviews
The possible benefits of including referring professionals in the first family interviews are being explored as a way to engage refugee families in therapy. Families in exile confront a number of problems related both to premigration traumatic exposures and to present adaptation processes. Refugee clients and the referring professionals in the larger system frequently see the problems and their solutions quite differently. This situation may often result in unclear working alliances in a context of therapy (Sveaass and Reichelt 2001 ).
- The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is a pan-European alliance of 90 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.
- Refugee Family Reunification UNHCR’s Response to the European Commission Green Paper on the Right to Family Reunification of Third Country Nationals Living in the European Union (Directive 2003/86/EC)
UNHCR has been entrusted by the United Nations General Assembly with the mandate to provide international protection to refugees and, together with Governments, to seek solutions to refugee problems. Article 35 of the 1951 Refugee Convention5 and Article II of the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees6 oblige States Parties to cooperate with UNHCR in the exercise of its mandate, in particular facilitating UNHCR’s duty of supervising the application of the provisions of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol.
- Family therapy sessions with refugee families; a qualitative study
Due to the armed conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s many families escaped to other countries. The main goal of this study was to explore in more detail the complexity of various family members’ experiences and perceptions from their life before the war, during the war and the escape, and during their new life in Sweden. There is insufficient knowledge of refugee families’ perceptions, experiences and needs, and especially of the complexity of family perspectives and family systems. This study focused on three families from Bosnia and Herzegovina who came to Sweden and were granted permanent residence permits. The families had at least one child between 5 and 12 years old (Jarkman Björn, Gustafsson, Sydsjö and Berterö 2013)
- Refugee children and families psychological health, brief family intervention and ethical aspects
To investigate parent-child agreement on the psychological symptoms of the refugee children; to explore refugee children’s well-being before and after three sessions of family therapy; to explore, in more detail, the complexity of various family members’ experiences and perceptions of their life before the war, during the war and their escape, and in their new life in Sweden; and also to highlight ethical issues and conduct ethical analyses using basic ethical principles that take into account the varying perspectives of the actors involved with regard to the psychological treatment of refugee children and families (Jarkman Björn, 2013).
- The European Resettlement Network
The European Resettlement Network is an inclusive network that supports the development of resettlement in Europe by connecting a variety of actors involved in refugee resettlement. Network members have a shared commitment to refugee resettlement and refugee protection, to ensuring the provision of durable solutions for refugees, and to ensuring refugees resettled to Europe receive integration support that provides them with the tools to become fully participating citizens.
- Family reunification in exile – Preventive measures through family conversations (Only in Norwegian)
Many refugee families have experience that they have been separated in connection with war, disaster or escape. Family members have separately or together been subjected to stressors and traumatic events. Reunification with the family after years of separation may involve major challenges. This publication is developed a method that could be of assistance to workers meeting these families (Gravråkmo et al 2016).