Objective: To understand the impact of family separation on refugees living in Australia.
Method: Thirteen participants with a refugee background and experiencing separation from family participated in a semi-structured qualitative interview. Interviews were coded and a thematic analysis was conducted using NVivo software.
Results: Identified themes were organised under four domains. Domain 1 focused on the personal impact of family separation. Themes were the effects on mental health and functioning, driven by incessant worrying about the safety of family and the absence of key attachment figures, the specific effects of having missing family, alterations to self-identity and family dynamics. Domain 2 focused on themes relating to actions taken to find missing family, connect or reunite with separated family. Domain 3 highlighted the coping strategies, support mechanisms and protective factors used by participants. Domain 4 identified core beliefs about the importance of family unity, focusing on security, settlement and a happy future.
Conclusions: Family separation has an enduring effect on the wellbeing of refugees, with key pathways being ongoing fear and insecurity, disrupted social attachments and identity shifts in relation to the future self.
Implications for public health: Refugees separated from or missing family struggle with ongoing stress and adjustment issues.