The Importance of Family Reunification for Refugees
Family Reunification Pathways
During the upheaval of an emergency, family members can become separated from their loved ones, resulting in devastating consequences on peoples’ wellbeing the ability to rebuild their lives. Therefore, family reunification acts as a valuable pathway to resettlement, allowing separated families to reunite. Reunifying families is of paramount importance, leading to stronger integration into the host community, and surpassing the long-term needs of those seeking protection.
Family Unity as a Human Right
The right to family unity is protected under international law, as the Article 16(3) of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), addresses the concept of family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society, and is entitled to protection by States.” However, there is no internationally agreed upon definition of a family, which allows the concept of what constitutes a family to vary from country to country.
Due to the ambiguity in international law with regards to the meaning of family, Syrian refugees (and refugees or migrants of other nationalities) often find family reunification programs that provide a narrow definition of what is considered family. In many countries, family reunification policies hold that family includes only unmarried children under the age of 18 and a spouse. These rigid requirements often lead to families breaking-up out of a feeling of necessity in order for some to achieve protection.
Broadening Family Reunification Programs
It is known that families act as a pillar of support throughout the integration process of newly arrived refugees into their community. The role of the family unit is often the most effective emotional and socio-economic support network during a time where refugees and migrants are navigating through a new culture and social framework. Family members are often the line of assistance newly arrived refugees can rely on to learn how to grow accustomed to a new environment, including informal cultural orientation, language support, learning transportation systems, and other issues related to adjustment.
The impact of family unity on refugee integration, as well as the necessity of preserving familial ties, has contributed to the broadening of family reunification policies in several countries. For example, the EU Family Reunification Directive allows member states of the EU to go beyond minimum protections of the nuclear family unit, as well as provide additional opportunities for refugees to request admission for the reunification of family members within three months of granting their protection status without financial limitations which other immigrants face.
Additional family reunification programs have also been created to specifically support refugees in their search for pathways to protection. For example, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assists Syrians through the Family Assistance Program (FAP). A requirement for family reunification is that the family submit a visa application to a competent mission abroad with the help of IOM’s FAP Program. Find out more about Germany’s Family Assistance Program on Refugee Pathways.
The protection of the family unit is a fundamental human right, yet fleeing war and violence often entails the separation of families for periods of time. While countries have the right to determine the conditions of entry for family members in their territories, it is of importance that family unity and its potential benefits for both refugees and their host communities be a factor considered in refugee and migration policy. Policies such as the EU Family Reunification Directive and programs similar to Germany’s Family Assistance Program must be more widely used as roadmaps towards more accepting, inclusive family reunification pathways.