How forcible separation affects people living in Australia

Sleep, concentration, the ability to work or settle into new lives. Separation from loved ones has profound impacts.

Each year we draw attention to the fate of people missing on International Day of the Disappeared.  But what does separation do to their loved ones who arrive, often as refugees, and settle in Australia?

A new report into the experience of people now living here, found forcible separation from family has a profound effect on their wellbeing, functioning and ability to settle into new lives.

"I’m partly safer here, but inside - I’m not safe inside. The reason because my future, I’m always afraid for the future of my family."
Participant in the project

Red Cross and the University of New South Wales have taken the first close-up look at the impact of forcible displacement on people.

The Effects of Family Separation on Forcibly Displaced People in Australia project found despite the enormous toll, many people still hold hope for the future. They show resourcefulness and resilience in finding and reuniting with missing loved ones.

"Six years without living with my family. But I’m thinking about the future of my kids. My daughter was 5 months only when I came here now she 7 years. My son 1 year, now he’s 8 years, so now I’m just fighting for their future."
Refugee living in Australia

Fears and worries

The cause of family separation are many: from conflict to persecution, terrorism to natural disasters. Many people can live for years without knowing the fate of missing family. 

Worry is the predominant feature of people’s lives when forcibly separated from family. People fear for the physical security and financial stability of family still living in difficult situations.

These concerns significantly interfere with many people’s psychological wellbeing, their capacity to concentrate, sleep, study or work and can impact their ability to settle into a new life in Australia.

Connecting with a missing family member can return happiness, hope and a sense of restoration and new life.

"I think it’s like getting out of the darkness and to the bright."
Refugee after reconnecting with family

The joy of finding missing loved ones does not always end worries and fears. When families continues to be separated, the relief at reconnecting is interwoven with ongoing fears and a sense of responsibility for the safety of separated family members.

Refugees living safely in Australia often become financially stretched as they support their family overseas, working multiple jobs and sending any spare income to family. They can feel responsible for arranging to bring separated family members to Australia.

"I am responsible for money. If I don’t send them money then they can’t survive. Emotionally if I don’t give her hope she can’t survive."
Refugee living in Australia

Families give meaning, support and security to all of us, it’s why reuniting families is so important.

To find out more about the impact of forcible separation read the report in full.

Who told their stories

Female 61.5%

Male 38.5%

Countries of origin: Ethiopia, Eretria, DRC, Sudan, Malaysia, Afghanistan

Length of separation: from 4 to 47 years

Missing parents and siblings 69.2%

Missing husband or wife 7.7%

Missing Children 7.7%

If you have been separated from your family by war, disaster or migration, Red Cross may be able to help.

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