Family unity significant for refugee well-being and for integration

In new report, Michaela Kreyenfeld says policies needed so family separation doesn't hinder integration.

Policymakers should consider the importance of family unity for successful integration, say the authors of a new report showing that refugees whose families are together in Germany are "measurably" happier than those whose children and spouses remain abroad. The report by Michaela Kreyenfeld, Professor of Sociology at the Hertie School, and co-authors at the DIW German Institute for Economic Research, found that nine percent of refugees aged 18 to 49 who came to Germany between January 2013 and January 2016 live apart from at least one minor child, and twelve percent live apart from their spouses who remained abroad.

More needs to be done to ensure that the lack of family for these refugees is not an obstacle to integration, the authors say. At the same time, measures are also needed to tap the potential of families who are together to ensure their successful integration.

"What is needed are easy-to-implement measures focused on everyday life for families who are living together in Germany, and specific support for refugees whose children or spouses live abroad," says Michaela Kreyenfeld. It is crucial that family, integration and migration policy work in tandem to achieve this goal, she says.

The report’s findings should also be considered in the current debate surrounding family reunification. Under German law, refugees who have been granted asylum and those covered by the Geneva Convention are entitled to bring their spouses and children to Germany. Until July 2018, those with so-called “subsidiary protection” – for example, from war zones, had not been allowed to bring their families to Germany for the last three years. Since August, a new law has allowed around 1000 family members per month to come to Germany.

Despite the heated debate surrounding family reunification in Germany, there has been little empirical evidence on the composition of refugee families or on the significance of family unity for refugees’ wellbeing, the authors say. The authors based their conclusions on a survey conducted jointly by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB), the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) of the DIW. 

The survey was administered to people who fled to Germany between January 2013 and January 2016. The researchers evaluated data from 3,386 people aged 18 to 49 from the IAB-BAMF-SOEP sample.

Read the full weekly report on the topic "Migration and Integration" on the DIW Berlin website.

Press coverage:
The report has been covered in several news outlets, among them Zeit Online, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Die Welt.

More about Michaela Kreyenfeld