This report by the Australian Red Cross highlights the impact on people of being separated from a family member, especially with the added uncertainty of not having any communication with them or knowing about how they’re doing.
The Australian Red Cross (ARC) implements the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program as a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the “Movement”). The central principle of the RFL program is the right to know the fate of missing family members. This recognises the importance of the family unit as a fundamental group in society that underpins the wellbeing of individuals and communities. RFL aims to connect individuals with their missing or separated family members following forcible displacement, natural disaster, conflict or migration. RFL services also entail efforts to prevent separation, as well as support to maintain contact with family and with accessing reunification processes.
Not knowing the location or fate of a loved family member is widely recognized as being extremely distressing (see references below). In 2019, International Committee of the Red Cross, along with a number of national societies, published a report demonstrating that having missing or separated family is associated with significant hardship, and highlighted the importance of family unity. Despite this, there has been very limited research conducted on the specific impacts of family separation and enduring uncertainty in relation to missing family.
Miller A, Hess JM, Bybee D, et al. (2018) Understanding the mental health consequences of family separation for refugees: Implications for policy and practice. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 88: 26-37
Refugee Council, United Kingdom and Oxfam. (2018) Safe but Not Settled: The impact of family separation on refugees in the UK
Savic M, Chur-Hansen A, Mahmood MA, Moore V (2013). Separation from family and its impact on the mental health of Sudanese refugees in Australia: a qualitative study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 37, 383-388