Bosnian Refugee Life in America
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Bosnian Refugee Life in America
Thousands of refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina have fled to the United States to seek protection from the ethnoreligious conflicts of the region. To best assist these families, service providers must understand their wartime and migration experiences and their culture. The purpose of this article is to review the literature relevant to working with Bosnian Muslim refugees as well as to understand the uruque issues facing this population. The authors' interest in Bosnian Muslim refugees is a personal one. Between 1992 and 2001, nearly 3,500 Bosnian refugees escaping ethnic cleansing and war migrated to Bowling Green, a small city of 50,000 in rural southcentral Kentucky. The Bowling Green International Center has been a part of the local community since 1979 and actively works with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). For more than 25 years, the center has assisted thousands of refugees of many nationalities in their migration to the United States and the local community. According to the center's director, Marty Deputy, Bosnians make up the largest percentage of refugees that have relocated to Bowling Green (personal communication, February 3, 2005). Deputy also indicated that while Bosnian refugees have adapted well to the local community, they still face many challenges because of their experiences in Bosnia in addition to their integration into a new culture. One of the issues that continue to haunt many Bosnian refugees is post-traumatic stress—a result of war and genocide. Post-traumatic stress is particularly an issue for the adult women, who experienced the trauma of rape and sexual assault as well as witnessing the murder of their children and spouses. According to Deputy (personal communication, February 3, 2005), social workers should approach Bosnian families and children with cultural competence. If visiting a Bosnian home, for example, removing one's shoes when entering is a display of respect and sensitivity. A willingness to drink a strong cup of Bosnian coffee is also appreciated. Social workers also must be sensitive about body language and speech tone. It is also important not to assume that all Bosnians are alike. As with all cultures, there is tremendous variation in the Bosnian culture, along with individual differences in personality and environmental experiences.
Bosnian Muslim Experiences in the War
The 1991 census for Bosnia-Herzegovina shows that Muslims made up 43.7% of the total population of 4.3 million people. Serbs accounted for 31.3% and Croats 17.3% (Bringa, 1995). Serbs identified the Muslims' majority population base in Bosnia-Herzegovina as its strategic strength (Cigar, 1995). In 1992, therefore, the Serbs declared war and began a campaign of ethnic cleansing to eradicate non-Serbs. The term "ethnic cleansing" stands for the policy of ridding an area of an undesirable national group to create a homogenous region; it represents a type of genocide that is designed to spread terror (Friedman, 1996; Weine & Laub, 1995). Serbia's initial rationale for its policy was promulgated by the belief that the newly formed state of Bosnia-Herzegovina would create national minorities of the Serb population and eventually destroy the Serb populace as a discrete and unique nation (Friedman, 1996). The prospect of acquiring material goods from the Muslims—land, livestock, houses, cars, and cash—apparently was an additional powerful incentive for many Serbs (Cigar, 1995; Sells, 1998). The indigenous Bosnian Serb population was drawn into a terror campaign of killing and mayhem so the non-Serbian populations would never return. This persecution ultimately led to more than one million Balkan refugees migrating to the United States and other countries. The types of experiences they endured in their...
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