The Forgotten Ones: When Relatives of Migrants Are Left Behind

Published Date: 
Mon, 10/14/2019 - 22:30

When we talk about migration, we often focus on the migrants and the difficulties they encounter in their countries of origin, transit or destination. But what about their families? How do they cope with the pain of separation, disappearance, and sometimes the passing of their child, parent or spouse?

The psychosocial issues do not affect only the migrant but can also affect family members. For instance, the fact that a migrant is in a detention center and tortured by kidnappers to call relatives to ask them to pay a ransom can create psychological distress in the family members.

"From a clinical point of view, we can observe moderate or sometimes more severe psychic disorders in the migrant’s relatives who often develop sleep disorders, depressive or anxious behaviours, mood swings such as sadness, loneliness, loss of appetite, feelings of guilt, and anxiety attacks", says Gaia Quaranta Regional Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Coordinator at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In the night of Wednesday, July 3, 2019, the migrant detention center located in Tajoura, in Eastern Tripoli in Libya was the target of an air strike which killed more than 50 migrants. One of the migrants’ mother says: "I could not sleep at night, I was only thinking of him; and when my neighbor who has a television at home informed me about the attack, I spent the whole day crying".

In Mali, as part of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, IOM organizes family mediations to encourage family support of returned Malians.

Returning into a family after the traumatic experiences associated with irregular migration is not always easy. “You should go beyond the individual – the returned migrant – and consider what is going on in the family”, explains Gaia Quaranta.

“Family mediations help to recreate the bonds needed for a successful social reintegration. It’s a holistic approach that enables IOM to identify the needs of the returned migrant’s family, and their community of origin,” she adds.

“I am very happy to see my child again because he left without telling us exactly where he was going. Initially, I did not want to see him anymore, because we spent a lot of money to release him from prison. But when I saw the attack on TV, I started to worry about the fate of my child and other children. I forgive him, he can come home," says the mother of a migrant who participated in a family mediation.

Irregular migration can have devastating effects on loved ones. Through its Missing Migrants Project, IOM is currently conducting a pilot study with families searching for missing migrants along the Central Mediterranean Route. The results will provide much needed data and solutions that will better meet the information needs of loved ones, including the psychosocial support they need.