Families at a distance, distances within families: Borders and emotional bonds among migrants from Eritrea

  • Aurora Massa Università di Napoli “L'Orientale”, Italy


This article investigates how mobility regimes and destination countries contribute to reshaping transnational family ties among refugees from Eritrea. Due to protracted political violence in the country, Eritreans are a geographically dispersed community, bonded together by solidarities, feelings of belonging and kinship relationships. Based on a multi-sited ethnography, this article sheds light on migrant family members living in different countries (Ethiopia, Italy, UK, Sweden), rather than on the relationships between migrants and their family members back home. By focusing on three case-studies and including vertical and horizontal family ties, it explores marriage forms, practices of parenthood and relationships among spouses and siblings, to show the phenomenological experience of family by refugees who find themselves in various family roles, with contrasting moral obligations and in unequal positions with respect to border regimes. The aim is to show how policy and labour constraints play a role in moulding migrants’ family relationships, in addition to the geographical distance, and how people navigate this scenario through confronting dilemmas and taking decisions. While conceptualizing family ties not as “given” but as “made”, this study analyses the forms of subjectivities which emerge in the interconnections between social structures and desires.

Author Biography

Aurora Massa, Università di Napoli “L'Orientale”, Italy

Aurora Massa is research fellow at L’Orientale, University of Naples. Social anthropologist with an expertise on migration studies within and from the Horn of Africa, she holds her PhD from University of Bergamo and was postdoctoral fellow at University of Trento under the ERC-HOMInG research project, and at CRN-IRPPS. Her fields of inquiry include migration experiences, conditions of im/mobility, social boundaries, nationalism, homemaking process and research methodology. She conducted ethnography in Ethiopia, Italy, the UK and Sweden. Her works are published in English and Italian, and her book Ethnographies of home and mobility in Europe (co-authored with Bonfanti and Miranda-Nieto) is forthcoming by Routledge.

How to Cite
Massa, A. (2020) “Families at a distance, distances within families: Borders and emotional bonds among migrants from Eritrea”, Anuac, 9(1), pp. 135-157. doi: 10.7340/anuac2239-625X-3803.
Thematic section: Kinship ties on the move