Family, Separation and Migration: An Evolution-Involution of the Global Refugee Crisis

by Oreste Foppiani (Volume editor) Oana Scarlatescu (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 298 Pages


Families are actors and drivers in migration and refugee crises. However, the current protection frameworks privilege the individual over the family unit. Consequently, the stories of families in migration have remained under-researched and their challenges under-addressed.
This volume explores the interplay between family, separation, and migration in the Middle East, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and in the context of the 2015 global refugee crisis. Guiding it are two questions: How do family, migration, and separation play out across geographical, political, and historical contexts? And what are the gaps in the protection of migrants and their families? Thirteen authors – academics and practitioners – discuss the international protection for refugees, migration governance, child mobility, disability and immigration, human trafficking, and dilemmas in refugee reporting.
The book proposes a paradigm shift in the way we cater to the needs and aspirations of families on the move. Its authors offer evidence-based solutions that cut across polarized discussions on migration and refugees. As such, the volume is aimed at researchers, students, policymakers, and experts working in international relations, migration, human rights, and refugee protection.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword by Rear Admiral Nicola Carlone, Italian Coast Guard
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Perspectives on Migration and Family Life
  • Family in Europe: An Evolving Concept? (Edo Korljan)
  • The Italian-Chinese Community in Prato: Insideness, Outsideness, and Cultural Complexes (Betty Sacco German)
  • Part II. Perspectives on the Protection of Migrants and their Families
  • International Migration in Southeast Asia: Protection Norms and Challenges Facing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) (Robin Ramcharan)
  • Regional Migration Governance and Social Protection of Migrant Workers (Elisa Fornalé)
  • Taking Care of Countering the Business of Trafficking in Human Beings (Giji Gya)
  • Part III. Perspectives on Children on the Move and on Migrants with Disabilities
  • Unaccompanied and on the Move: Risks and Opportunities for Migrant Children (Mirela Shuteriqi)
  • Unaccompanied Migrant Minors in the European Union: Children or Irregular Migrants? A Comparative Analysis of Belgium, Romania, and the United Kingdom (Oana A. Scarlatescu)
  • A Universal Madness: Disability and Immigration Policy in Modern History (Warren Rosenblum)
  • Part IV. Perspectives on Families in Crisis and on the Move
  • The Syrian Exodus and the International Law of Internal Conflict-Induced Displacement (Cecilie Hellestveit)
  • A Snapshot of Global Challenges to Refugee Protection in 2014–2015: Regional Trends and Protection at Sea (Sumbul Rizvi)
  • The Psychosocial Effects on and Traumas of Syrian Women and Children Refugees (Sabine Nasser)
  • Wartime Evacuations and the Restoration of Italian Families after 1945: A Critical Prehistory for Family Reunification Policy? (Pamela Ballinger)
  • Dilemmas in Refugee and Migration Reporting (Gunilla von Hall)
  • Conclusion
  • Abstracts and Keywords
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

← 12 | 13 →


“Always ready, so that others may live” is the motto of the Italian Coast Guard (IT. C.G.), which guides my colleagues and I as we coordinate search-and-rescue operations (SAR) in the central Mediterranean Sea.

As you are about to read this book, you have seen the headlines. If you are a researcher, a diplomat or a student in international relations, you are familiar with the literature on the surge in immigration to Europe following prolonged conflicts in Africa and in the Middle East. And you know that the Mediterranean Sea is at the center of these migratory flows. By September 2017, 120,975 migrants and refugees crossed it trying to reach Europe. Sadly, these dangerous journeys in overcrowded boats, often sailing without specialized crew and satellite phones, claimed 2,410 lives in 2017.

Three principal migration routes stand out: (1) the central Mediterranean corridor departs from the Libyan coasts and takes migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to the Italian shores; (2) the eastern Mediterranean route brings Middle Eastern refugees from Turkey to Greece; and (3) the western Mediterranean takes migrants from North Africa to Spain.

It is along the central Mediterranean route that my colleagues’ stories mix up with those of migrants and refugees. To save lives at sea, the IT. C.G. coordinates and combines its own assets with the resources of Italian and European Union (E.U.) Navies’ ships, merchant vessels, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Through this cooperation, by September 2017, we saved 99,908 migrants across a sea surface of 1,275,000 square kilometres although Italy’s search-and-rescue region of responsibility (SRR) covers only a sea surface of 500,000 square kilometres. Indeed, the IT. C.G. is often called to operate well beyond its area of responsibility. The reason for this situation is simple: the SAR Authority first informed about persons in possible distress at sea outside their own SRR shall manage the situation as far as the competent Rescue Coordination Center (R.C.C.) responsible for the area concerned or another R.C.C. better able to assist assumes the responsibility of the case.

However, we rarely catch a glimpse of what the future holds for the men, women, and children whose lives we save once they make it to Europe. ← 13 | 14 → Nor do we always learn of the acts of violence, discrimination, and persecution in their home countries or of the hopes for a better life that drove hundreds of thousands to risk their lives at sea. This is where this book comes in. Its 13 authors bring context, history, and nuance to complex stories of families on the move. You will learn that the Europe migrants and refugees encounter is undergoing changes in family structures as it adapts to economic shocks, diverse communities, and an aging population. Or that the international legal framework protecting migrants and refugees is struggling to keep up with the challenges and scale of contemporary migratory flows. Similarly, a war correspondent will tell you that the stories you read about migration and refugees are rarely clear-cut but the result of multiple dilemmas about reporting on these urgent issues.

This book touched me on many levels. The IT. C.G. was appointed United Nations Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) Ambassador for its work safeguarding unaccompanied children at sea. Consequently, I was pleased that this volume devotes two articles to the migration projects of unaccompanied minors, exploring their stories and the challenges they encounter in E.U. member states. As an Italian, two other papers stood out: Pamela Ballinger’s article about the wartime evacuations of Italian women and children from Libya reminded me that the waters I now patrol once separated and reunited my own fore­fathers. Similarly, Betty Sacco-German’s essay about the Italian and Chinese communities learning to live together in Prato shows that my country’s migration journey is an ongoing process. In today’s world, that is almost every country’s story.

This book will help you navigate a complex and timely topic. If you want to make sense of the troubled waters of our world, read it.

← 14 | 15 →


We are grateful to the contributors for making this volume possible. Their diverse perspectives and experiences make for an intellectually fulfilling book.

This book came out of the 20th International Humanitarian Conference (IHC) on “Family, Migration, and Separation”, organized on February 16–17, 2015, by the Department of International Relations of Webster University Geneva. At Webster University, special recognition is due to Dr. Otto Hieronymi, who initiated the IHC and led it until 2006, and to all the professors, students, and staff who have been making the event a landmark conference in the Genève internationale since 1996.

Special thanks are due to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) for their longstanding support.

We are particularly indebted to the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva for its enduring dedication to and high patronage of the International Humanitarian Conference. ← 15 | 16 →

← 20 | 21 →


The past three years have become synonymous with mass displacement. The figures for 2014–16 are telling. In 2016, 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide, 300,000 more than in 2015.1 Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.) estimated that 20 new people became displaced every minute in 2016, compared to 24 people in 2015, and 30 in 2014.2 Syrians, Afghans, and South Sudanese accounted for 55 percent of all refugees worldwide in 2016, while Turkey remained, as in 2015, the host country with the highest number of refugees — 2.9 million.3 The migrants and refugees who fled to the European Union (E.U.) risked their lives in treacherous journeys by land and at sea, only for the survivors to be met by a continent in disarray. In the shadows of the Syrian refugee crisis, lesser-known yet equally serious forced migration waves occurred in/from “Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan”.4 In Southeast Asia, the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma resulted in the continent’s own refugee crises in 2015 and 2017, with 370,000 Rohingya Muslims estimated to have migrated by sea by September 2017 alone.5 In Central America, an estimated 46,900 unaccompanied minors and 70,400 families fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were stopped at the United States’ (U.S.) border in 2016, compared to 20,000 people in 2015. ← 21 | 22 → 6

The numbers are indeed alarming. Yet they can also tell an incomplete story. Numbers speak of individuals, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions. Yet, they obscure the most basic form of identification and belonging: the family. Each of the 65.6 million people forcibly displaced are part of nuclear and extended family units; members of the same family travel together for the duration of their migratory journeys or they are separated before, during or after they reach their destination. Sometimes months or even years pass between their initial separation and their reunification. Sometimes they never reunite.

This work promises to contribute to the literature on humanitarian crises, namely on the role of kinship and family. As humanitarian organizations follow needs-based operations, they invariably and unwittingly tend to treat beneficiaries primarily as individual clients. In the process, the family is often overlooked as the core social group at the basis of people’s survival mechanisms and of their decisions to migrate. The pain of being separated from family members is often more acutely felt than any other kind of deprivation. This issue has remained under-researched and under-addressed. Hence, this volume aims to provide new insight into the debates on families on the move, especially in times of crisis, exploring the interplay between family, separation, and migration regionally — in the Middle East, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Latin America — and internationally, looking at the global refugee crisis of 2015. This volume brings together 13 authors who contribute to debates on the international protection for refugees, regional governance of migration, child mobility, the history of disability and immigration, human trafficking, and the journalistic dilemmas in reporting on refugees. This introductory chapter briefly discusses the main concepts and outlines the structure and themes of the book.

Family, Separation, and Migration

Indeed, ordinary families are actors of and drivers in the myriad of migration and refugee crisis worldwide. But what is a family today? How does it hold on the move, with its members separated? And what protections are in place for families forced to flee their homes in search of shelter and a better life? ← 22 | 23 →

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of family is twofold, encompassing both the endurance and the evolution of family life: (1) “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children” and (2) “any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family (e.g., a single-parent family).”7 Indeed, families today are increasingly non-traditional, multicultural, and transnational. In this volume, Korljan and Sacco German both explore these evolutions from the perspective of human rights law —tracing the changing patterns of family life in Europe in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (E.C.H.R.) — and from that of migrants integrating into host communities.

International human rights law recognizes the central role that families play for individuals and societies. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 mentions the term family six times, defining it as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society […] entitled to protection by society and the state.”8 Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reiterates the status of the family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” while article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life.”9 Equally, scholars and international organizations such as U.N.H.C.R. acknowledge the distress that separation and displacement cause families and the need for reunification in order to protect family life.10 ← 23 | 24 →

While consensus about protecting family life prevails, the definitions of family remain open to interpretation beyond the pages of a dictionary. The understanding of the family as a nucleus of parents and children in the global north is at odds with the inclusive approach in the global south, where family incorporates multiple generations and lineages as well as community, tribe, and kinship.11 In the same vein, the individual’s rights to family life collide with the sovereign rights of states to decide their immigration policies, including imposing and tightening restrictions on who can enter their territories, for which purpose, and for how long.12 Indeed, Ballinger explores the links between the evacuation of women and children in Europe during World War II (WWII) and the family reunification policies of the European Union, as well as how post–1945 family reunifications became the means of rebuilding war-torn states in Europe. Similarly, Rosenblum draws on the history of disability and immigration in continental Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States of America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to illuminate the contemporary debates on “worthy” and “unworthy” members of migrant families.

It is not only the concept of family that needs to be understood in its multiple forms. Migration requires a nuanced discussion as well. We accept the definition of the International Organization for Migration (I.O.M.) as the most comprehensive for the purposes of this volume: “migration is the movement of a person or a group of persons, either across an international border, or within a state; it is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes migration of refugees, displaced persons, economic migrants, and persons moving for other purposes, including family reunification.”13 The definition also touches on forced migration, which is a “migratory movement in which an element of coercion exists, including threats to life and livelihood, whether arising from natural or man-made causes; e.g., movements of refugees and internally displaced persons as well as people ← 24 | 25 → displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine or development projects.”14

Nevertheless, we also acknowledge the scholarly debates arguing that migration is racialized, gendered, and darkened with negative connotations. For example, Anna Lindley posits that “some people on the move (refugees and asylum-seekers, low-skilled workers, racialized minorities) are positioned as more migrant than others (business elites, highly skilled workers)” and that migration has been politically constructed

as dangerous, deviating from a spatial order which naturalizes people’s connections to place; the “sedentarist metaphysics” represents migrants as rootless, politically suspect and potentially dangerous, not domesticated within local forms of order.15

The scholarly debate touches not only on the spatial but also on the temporal dimension of migration. Similarly to scholars Elodie Razy and Marie Rodet, we recognize that migratory movements have periods of immobility, which can last from several days to several years, and that they can be circular, entailing many comings and goings across internal and/or international borders.16

Migration and forced migration carry an undercurrent of crisis; and both phenomena — crisis and migratory movements — are portrayed as unpredictable, rapidly evolving, and detrimental to society.17 However, alongside other scholars, we challenge the assumption that crises are the result of external action outside the control of politicians or that they are triggered only by events in the present or in the near past.18 Instead, we argue that protracted conflicts, displacement, and insecurity over a number of years can lead to people voting with their feet in large numbers in search of refuge, jobs, and other opportunities. For example, Rizvi shows how inaction in addressing the root causes of displacement, coupled with the disparity between developed and developing countries in accepting refugees, and the insecure legal status of migrants in transit and destination countries, erupted in the refugee crisis of 2014–15. ← 25 | 26 →

Structure of the Volume


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
Family Migration Family Separation Forced Migration Refugee Crisis Syrian Crisis Refugee Protection Displacement Migration Governance Human Trafficking Migrant Rights Child Migration Protection at Sea
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 298 pp., 5 tables

Biographical notes

Oreste Foppiani (Volume editor) Oana Scarlatescu (Volume editor)

Oreste Foppiani is Associate Professor of International History and Politics at Webster University Geneva, where he chairs the Department of International Relations and Visiting Scholar at New York University’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies. Dr. Foppiani is also a member of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law and a senior officer in the Italian Navy Selected Reserve. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. Oana A. Scarlatescu is Visiting Research Fellow at Webster University Geneva, where she researches the nexus between security and development, including human trafficking and smuggling. Ms. Scarlatescu holds an MA in International Relations from Webster University Geneva and a BA in Communications from the University of Bucharest. She previously worked at the Embassy of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Romania.


Title: Family, Separation and Migration: An Evolution-Involution of the Global Refugee Crisis
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
299 pages