Monash-Oxfam research provides compelling evidence of the social and economic benefits of reuniting refugees with their families

Research conducted under the Monash-Oxfam partnership has found refugees and migrants who reunite with their families are more likely to resettle successfully. The research reveals the devastating effects of separation on individuals, families and society.

Family separation is very harmful to humanitarian migrants’ access to education, employment and the economic market. This leads to stress and missed opportunities for economic development and brain gain for Australia. - Associate Professor Rebecca Wickes, Director, Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre

Refugees currently face significant barriers attempting to reunite with their families. The impact can be devastating. Being seperated from family, often trapped in dangerous and unpredictable circumstances overseas, can compromise successful settlement and has a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of new migrants. Our research shows that women humanitarian visa holders are particularly affected. To change this, the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre (MMIC), through the Oxfam-Monash Partnership, is supporting Families Together, a new campaign from Oxfam Australia that aims to make it easier for refugees and humanitarian migrants to reunite with families overseas.

Families Together was launched in Melbourne on Wednesday 28 August along with the central report for the campaign, Stronger Together. This campaign is based on research by MMIC and Deloitte that provides clear evidence of the social and economic benefits family reunification can bring. This research has generated much-needed public discussion on the issue and has been widely covered in the media.

MMIC’s contribution to Stronger Together is based on research by MMIC Director Associate Professor Rebecca Wickes, John van Kooy, Rebecca Powell and Claire Moran. Key findings in The social impacts of family separation on refugee settlement and inclusion in Australia are based on a systematic review of the literature, analyses of the ‘Building a New Life in Australia’ (BNLA) survey, and includes case studies of refugee experiences of family separation in Australia. The literature and data present compelling evidence of the negative impacts family separation has on social cohesion and individual well-being.

Opening the launch, Lyn Morgain, Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia, noted “MMIC has drawn a picture of the social effects of family separation and made a compelling case that family reunion leads to a lower probability of mental illness and PTSD, and a higher likelihood of engagement in study or job training”. Research by Deloitte Access Economics supported this by highlighting the potential benefits to the Australian economy of streamlining the family reunion process.

Speaking at the launch on a panel with representatives from Oxfam, Deloitte, and refugee groups, MMIC Director Rebecca Wickes noted that, “family separation is very harmful to humanitarian migrants’ access to education, employment and the economic market. This leads to stress and missed opportunities for economic development and brain gain for Australia”. The impact is particularly significant for migrant women, who are more likely to be single parents, unemployed and experiencing financial hardship. “We have to reimagine how we respond to women who have come on humanitarian visas”, Wickes continued, “the issue of gender requires a different kind of lens”.

The task is now to take this compelling case to government and politicians who have the power to change the current system. To support this, we have offered several key recommendations. These include reducing costs and streamlining the family reunification process, funding specialised mental health support services, and providing better support to women refugees separated from families. To read an overview of our findings and recommendations, please see the executive summary. The full report is available online.

Above: MMIC Director Rebecca Wickes describes the impact of family separation on refugees at the launch of the Oxfam Australia campaign Families Together, 28 August 2019, Melbourne.

Above: MMIC research team (L-R) Claire Moran, Associate Professor Rebecca Wickes, Rebecca Powell and (not pictured) John van Kooy at the launch of the Oxfam Australia campaign Families Together, 28 August 2019, Melbourne.