International Day of Families: Facing family challenges during conflict and migration


As we mark the UN’s International Day of Families on May 15, we are reminded that – whether bound by biology or any of a variety of strong bonds – healthy families can offer us the space to feel safe, supported and nurtured.

First proclaimed in 1993, International Day of Families is, however, also an opportunity to raise awareness of the many issues faced by families across the world. This week we want to explore the challenges and struggles of families affected by conflict, migration and forcible separation.

Protracted conflict on displaced families

Famine, droughts, and natural disasters may lead to families being forcibly displaced from their homes and seeking short-term shelter in other areas, sometimes temporarily apart. However, these displacements are becoming   due to political tensions, climate change and environmental pressures. In some cases, this can exacerbate tensions and ignite conflict. When situations like these develop, any familial separation that was thought to be temporary and transient may escalate into the realisation that this will not be a quick reunion. Families are still being kept apart for years at a time.

This is currently the case in Bangladesh, as the Rohingya refugee crisis continues to raise concerning questions about repatriation, and the threat of relocation to Bhasan Char raises questions of further separation. Fears for the safety of family and loved ones in Myanmar, exacerbated by the recent military coup, have heightened concerns of their prospects of safely returning to their homeland.

The ICRC is striving to restore family links among families separated by conflict, violence or migration, as the number of families separated due to these

In the case of a protracted famine, such as the current crisis in Yemen, families have been impacted by war and currency collapse. UNHCR report that due to limited livelihood opportunities and economic stagnation, millions of displaced families are unable to afford basic food and are facing starvation.

Since 2018, MOAS has been providing aid to communities in Yemen, and working to combat child malnutrition. Provisions of Plumpy’Nut®, a Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) created to target malnourished children, have been used for the treatment of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in children 6 months of age and older. In 2020 we coordinated another shipment of RUTF to Yemen, and one to Somalia.

Economic migration: family remittances

In some cases, a member of the household will leave their homes for years on end causing family disruption. The promise of better economic prospects and an improved and secure livelihood forces family structures to re-evaluate and alter, sometimes redefining gender roles, societal structures and customary behaviours. The United Nations (UN) estimates one billion people around the world- that’s one in seven people- are involved with remittances, that being the sending or receiving of money between family members. These flows of money are used for critical family activities such as purchasing food and clothing, medical expenses, education fees and housing costs. They also support elderly family members with care and can cover emergency costs in times of uncertainty – for example, famine, drought or a natural disaster.

Unwelcoming contexts (safe and legal routes)

In some cases, families try to remain together to seek a safer environment in which to live, whether that is a new town, city, or country. However, political repression means separation is sometimes inevitable. Families are sometimes detained separately at unwelcome borders, leading to children being taken away from their parents and causing stress, anxiety, and other emotional repercussions for years to come. Reformations in immigration law and bureaucracy are needed to ensure families are protected and can remain together at borders while their claims are processed. The introduction of safe and legal means of migration, provision of visas and both private and community sponsorship can be seen as ways of protecting lives, alleviating these concerns and potentially allowing families to remain together.

MOAS commitment to family unity

This year’s theme for International Day of Families is Families and New Technologies, and this year in particular when so many of us have not been able to spend time with each other, the role of technology in keeping those disconnected by geography, connected digitally has been profound. The rise of technological platforms has played a key role in the lives of families lucky enough to have access to them, over the past year.

MOAS’ commitment towards making sure that families could feel united and have equitable access to technological resources during this time of pandemic was explicated through the launch of our Remote Learning Project in Malta, to provide migrant families on the island with access to remote education services, through the purchase of technology for educational use.

As a family-established-and-led organisation, our commitment to ensuring families are kept together and safe is integral. The safe and legal mechanism of family reunification is at the heart of our #SafeAndLegalRoutes campaign and MOAS will continue to strive to support and protect families in difficult circumstances.

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