Migrant family crossing the border in Texas, USA Migrant family crossing the border in Texas, USA  (2022 Getty Images)

Experts reflect on family migration ahead of International Family Day

Experts from the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities (SACRU) share their academic reflections on family migration in view of the International Day of Families to be celebrated on Sunday.

By Benedict Mayaki, SJ

The International Day of Families is celebrated annually on 15 May. The day provides the opportunity to promote awareness of issues pertaining to families and to increase knowledge of the economic, social and demographic processes affecting families.

This year’s theme: “Families and Urbanization,” aims to draw attention to the importance of sustainable, family-friendly urban policies.

According to the UN, sustainable urbanization is related to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including poverty eradication, good health and well-being, making cities and human settlements safe, sustainable and inclusive and reducing inequality within and among countries.

These SDGs and their targets, the UN says, “depend on how well urbanization is managed towards benefitting families and enhancing the well-being of all generations living in cities.”

Academics share reflections on family migration

Ahead of the 2022 International Day of Families, experts from the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities (SACRU) have shared their personal contributions on the impact of migration of families in a document, in light of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year launched by Pope Francis in 20211 and the SACRU mission of global cooperation for common good.

SACRU has been engaged in family issues since its foundation. A concrete example of the Alliance’s involvement includes the Working Group 4 on Family which held a webinar in November about the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown measures on families.

Families, war in Ukraine

Theresa Betancourt, Director of the Research Program on Children and Adversity at the Boston College School of Social Work, points at the 4.3 million children estimated by UNICEF who are either internally displaced or have fled across borders as refugees because of the war in Ukraine. She also notes that these same dynamics exist for children in other conflict areas including Afghanistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, among others.

Ms. Betancourt stresses the role of families and caregivers in “helping children to survive and thrive despite the trauma and loss of armed conflict” noting that “attachment relationships, and the chance to grow in the loving care of healthy, functioning and supportive family operate as major protective factors for war-affected children to thrive over the long term.”

“In order to support war-affected children,” she insists, “institutes and policies must work to transform the ecosystem to serve all people and to strengthen families.” Ms. Betancourt also underlines that we must invest in family based-prevention as well as educational and employment opportunities programs to help families adjust to ways of life in a new country and culture and to help families struggling with displacement and loss to advance themselves.

Changing family structure, trauma of migration

Camillo Regalia, Director of The Families Studies and Research Center, and Laura Zanfrini, Professor for the Scientific-Disciplinary Sector of Sociology of Economic Processes of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Italy, explore the psychological and sociological levels of family migration, noting that the family structure changes as a primary consequence of migration and it leads family members to renegotiate their roles and to find new suitable ways of maintaining their relationships.

A separate reflection from a psychological perspective by Carlos Pérez-Testor and Anna Maria Vilaregut Puigdesens, from Universitat Ramon Llull in Spain, insists that economic and political reasons are two major reasons for family migration, and expatriation is a third, less traumatic cause, which generates protected migration.

They say that the three reasons generate losses, with the first two unprotected migrations capable of producing deep wounds that result in a mourning process. It is only if this grieving process is successfully elaborated, say Mr. Pérez-Testor and Ms. Puigdesens, that “the family will be able to integrate into the host society fully, and the result may lead to good individual and social development.”

Repercussions of family separation

Reflecting on the increase in migration to Chile in recent years, Maria Olaya Grau and Nicolle Alamo of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile note that many migrant families “face extreme precariousness in their search for better and safer lives.”

They concentrate their contribution on the transnational situation of Latin American migrant families which often involves the separation of and physical distancing of family members.

Family and sustainability

Keiko Hirao, of Sophia University in Japan, explores the important role of the family in society amid our discourses about sustainability. She stresses that societies cannot be sustainable unless their population is regenerated and the family is the only institution that generates children – a service provided to a society free of charge.

Ms. Hirao points at the falling birthrate in Japan and the grim projections for the future of many municipalities due to depopulation. This, she says, is due to cities losing women of reproductive ages either by low fertility or by women migrating to larger cities for education or employment opportunities.

She recommends gender equality and solving the work-and-family conundrum as a way to affront the situation and insists that we “reexamine the systematic devaluation of the Invisible Heart that provides a future workforce to the market.”

13 May 2022, 15:10