Refugee resettlement, family separation and Australia's humanitarian program

Refugees Multiculturalism Families Humanitarian assistance Australia

This qualitative study interviewed refugees in Melbourne and explored how they perceived family, the impact of separation and the impact of the Australian government’s policy regarding family reunion on refugees living in Australia.


The family is indisputably the central element and most important aspect of peoples' lives. It is our most intimate social environment – the place where we begin the vital processes of socialising children and teaching them how to survive and thrive in the world (DeFrain, Brand, Swanson 2008). Families are the basic building blocks that underpin our fundamental social structure and the most durable basis for imparting social values, customs, traditions, beliefs and languages between generations. They are a mediating link between society and individuals (Bogenschneider 2002) and are also significant contributors to economies.

Although rarely seen as part of production and exchange cycles, it is estimated that families add about 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product to most national economies (Cox 1994). They form an alternative safety net by playing prominent roles as health care providers, educators, social workers, and personnel managers (Bogenschneider 2002). However, families are also vulnerable to external influences. Effective functioning depends on the support of the wider social context (Bronfenbrenner 2004); that is, the prevailing political, economic and societal milieu.

International human rights instruments, including those concerned with the rights of the child and of refugees, explicitly recognise the importance of family. These include, but are not limited to, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (article 16); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) (article 10); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (article 23); the Refugee Convention (1951) (article 12); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1979) (article 9, 16); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) (article 9, 10, 20, 21, 22).

The important role that families play in building a cohesive and inclusive society is also recognised by national governments. That the family functions to promote health and wellbeing, boost education outcomes, care for the young, the sick and the elderly, and disseminate ethics and values is reflected in many national policies and programmes.

Publication Details
Access Rights Type:
Research Paper 178