Current migration situation poses separation risk for families

Refugee and migrant families risk being split up during the journey to the EU. Over a third of new arrivals in the past year were children, who often arrive unaccompanied as they become separated from their family. The latest FRA summary report on migration-related fundamental rights throws the spotlight on how the present situation is affecting family tracing and reunification.

Access the focus section on family tracing and reunification and the monthly data collection highlights >>

Respect for family life is a fundamental right guaranteed in the EU. Family reunification is an important enabler of this and facilitates the longer-term integration of migrants into society. However, the current situation is putting this right to the test as some Member States have made reunification more difficult.

This report looks at the challenges and good practices related to family tracing and reunification that can help the development of effective rights-compliant solutions at EU and national level. Some of the main findings include:

  1. Most Member States use the Red Cross’ fundamental rights-compliant tool ‘Trace the Face’ to search for family members. Refugees and migrants mainly use social media networks, online databases and the Red Cross tool to trace family members.
  2. However, practical obstacles impede family tracing. These include a lack of documentation among migrants, errors in processing names, the speed with which migrants move between countries, and the slow identification of those who have died crossing the Mediterranean. In addition, although national offices of the Red Cross play a leading role in family tracing, in most Member States there is no NGO specifically responsible for this.
  3. There are no systematic and reliable data on how many asylum seekers arrive with or without their family, nor on the exact number of requests for family reunification.
  4. Some Member States have reduced the timeframe for applying for family reunification or have made the process more complicated. The dissemination of information about family reunification also varies from Member State to Member State. Additional obstacles include the length of proceedings, the absence of valid travel documents, the cost of processing documentation including translation, and limited access to legal assistance.
  5. Under the EU’s Dublin Regulation for determining which Member State is responsible for examining asylum applications, family considerations such as keeping families together can be taken into account. However, practical, legal and administrative obstacles can impede such considerations. These include a lack of information about the process, the absence of proof of family relationships, and long and complex procedures with no chance to appeal decisions, etc.

Overall, family reunification seems to have become more difficult due to the recent changes in Member States’ policies and practices. Family tracing, which is often the necessary first step before applying for family reunification, is complicated for various reasons, despite some promising practices. More precise and specific data would be needed to better assess national practices on family reunification and family tracing and to develop effective solutions in line with fundamental rights at EU and Member State levels.

The European Commission asked FRA to collect data about the fundamental rights situation of people arriving in Member States, particularly affected by large migration movements. The countries covered are: Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Sweden.

FRA has published overviews since September 2015. Each overview covers different issues including:

  • initial registration and asylum applications;
  • criminal proceedings initiated for offences related to irregular border crossing;
  • child protection;
  • reception conditions for new arrivals;
  • access to healthcare;
  • public response such as rallies of support, humanitarian assistance or voluntary work;
  • racist incidents such as demonstrations, online hate speech or hate crime.

While this month has a section looking specifically at family tracing and reunification, last month’s focus was on migrants with disabilities and victims of torture. Next month will review the most important fundamental rights issues from the past year that still require priority action.