Sunday, September 15, 2019
Bosnian Refugee Life in America Essay
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 authorsÃ¢â¬â¢ 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 centerÃ¢â¬â¢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 stressÃ¢â¬âa 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 oneÃ¢â¬â¢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 MuslimsÃ¢â¬â¢ 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 Ã¢â¬Å"ethnic cleansingÃ¢â¬ 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). SerbiaÃ¢â¬â¢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 MuslimsÃ¢â¬âland, livestock, houses, cars, and cashÃ¢â¬âapparently 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 homeland before emigrating dramatically influenced their initial adaptation to these new environments. Resettlement and Adaptation Issues As difficult as the war-related experiences were, migration to resettlement countries signaled a transition to new types of struggles for Bosnian refugees. Unlike immigrants who leave their homes for a variety of reasons, refugees leave in order to survive, and they face a new realm of stressors as they attempt to rebuild their lives in exile (Keyes, 2000; Worthington, 2001). Such stressors include difficult transit experiences; culture shock; adjustment problems related to language and occupational change; and disruption in their sense of self, family, and community (Lipson, 1993; Worthington, 2001). Additionally, refugees leaving Bosnia-Herzegovina often have suffered multiple losses, such as severance from family and friends who have been left behind or killed, displacement from their homes and communities, social isolation, and the premature death of their children. Such an accumulation of loss can leave a sense of unresolved grief that can significantly impact mental health and future functioning capacity (Akhtar, 1992; Fullilove, 1996; Sundquist & Johansson, 1996; Worthington, 2001). When refugees cross national boundaries seeking asylum, they typically find themselves in an alien social environment with norms that challenge their traditional patterns of family interaction (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). Most Bosnian refugees have a hierarchical familial power structure and clear role definitions; in the homeland, authority was typically gender-based, with males maintaining instrumental roles and females fulfilling nurturing responsibilities. A traditional Bosnian womanÃ¢â¬â¢s commitment to her family includes observing strict codes of privacy and public silence on any issue that might bring shame on the family, such as family discord. For many women, this privacy mandate deters them from divulging details about marital strife or child maltreatment by spouses to outsiders such as work colleagues, community members, and mental health professionals. Consequently, Bosnian female refugees continue to be caught between traditional role models prevalent throughout the former YugoslaviaÃ¢â¬â¢s patriarchal society in the 20th Century and the expectations of their new culture. The Bosnian familyÃ¢â¬â¢s patriarchal patterns of behavior tend to be challenged on arrival in the United States, particularly around work-related issues. Women are more likely than men to find jobs in the low-wage labor market, and in becoming the breadwinners exposed to the outside world, they risk upsetting a family equilibrium based on male authority (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). For Bosnian men, key ethnic and social boundary markers of their lives had evaporated; because of their grief over this, many seemed paralyzed in their attempt to move forward in their new life. Bosnian refugee children also face immense acculturation pressures (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). They often are torn between the beliefs, customs, and values learned in their native culture and the often unrealistic expectations of the new one. The pressure to assimilate the cultural norms of their new country can be intense and extremely stressful. Their parents often lack the material resources and support systems to adequately assist them in navigating the complex terrain of foreign school systems, pervasive racism, and intolerance (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). Consequently, many feel as if they are alone in a foreign, sometimes unforgiving new cultural milieu. To further complicate the situation, family roles often reverse as children typically become more fluent in English faster and adapt more quickly to the customs of the new country (Potocky, 1996). Because children are thrust into the role of serving as the interpreters and negotiators of cultural norms for their parents, respect for the authority of elders is often undermined (Carlin, 1990; Drachman; 1992). Even though most teenagers in the United States feel a certain amount of intergenerational tension, the adolescents of refugees often experience the pull of two vastly different worlds: those of their American peers and their parents (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). They also feel subjected to the xenophobia of their American peers, who often ridicule others who they label as Ã¢â¬Å"different. Ã¢â¬ Immigration to the United States has provided Bosnian Muslim refugee families with many challenges as they struggle to adapt to their new lives. At first glance, their experiences may be similar to that of other immigrants, raising the familiar questions about how to perpetuate the faith of their forebears among their offspring or how to best preserve cherished cultural practices (Yazbeck- Haddad & Esposito, 2000). But there are some real differences. With the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, the potential for a xenophobic reception of Muslim immigrants and refugees by Americans has intensified. For example, disputes over the building of mosques represent a key source of friction for most Westerners (Pipes & Duran, 1993). While Bosnian Muslim families may encounter the same issues earlier generations of immigrants faced, they also are burdened with the question of whether their children will be accepted in the United States, and whether Islam can ever be recognized as a positive force that contributes to a pluralistic, multicultural nation (Yazbeck-Haddad & Esposito, 2000). Culturally Competent Practice with Bosnian Muslims When working with Bosnian Muslim refugees, service providers need to learn as much as possible about their culture, particularly given the pivotal role that ethnoreligious identity has played in their war-related experiences (Witmer & Culver, 2001). Bosnian men and women tend to adhere to traditional gender roles; connected with this issue is the intense stigma attached to the sexual violation of women. This stigma frequently led women to refrain from disclosing war rapes to their families (Witmer & Culver, 2001). Bosnian Muslims typically act in ways that preserve the positive image of the familyÃ¢â¬â¢s identity, especially males, who see openly revealing vulnerability or suffering as a sign of great personal weakness (Weine et al. , 1997). Family is the most important social structure across the urban and rural regions of Bosnia (Mojica-Castillo, 2001). Up until the 1970s, adult children commonly lived with their parents and multiple generations lived in the same house. But today, twoparent families predominate in this region with extended family members often living nearby. A cluster of shoes can typically be found outside a Bosnian home (Mojica-Castillo, 2001). This is because it is customary to remove street shoes and leave them at the door. Bosnians maintain a strong social tradition of neighborliness. The drinking of strong coffee or the sharing of food, accompanied by the essential element of lively conversation, is an important aspect of social life. Traditional music and folk dances are an important part of cultural celebrations. A basic principle of generalist social work is that practitioners need to be able to intervene on behalf of various systems, including individuals, families, orgaruzations, and communities. Additionally, the generalist social worker operates within an ecological framework that attempts to improve coping patterns for a better match between the client systemÃ¢â¬â¢s needs and the characteristics of his or her environment. An empowerment approach to generalist practice assumes that clients can draw from existing competencies and reservoirs of strength. Empowerment indicates the intent and the processes of assisting client systems to discover and expand the tools and resources around them (Furuto, 2004). Swift and Levin (1987) referred to empowerment as an evolution from dependence to independence and interdependence. Gutierrez (1990) described empowerment as Ã¢â¬Å"the process of increasing personal, interpersonal, or political power so that individuals can take action to improve their life situationsÃ¢â¬ (p. 140). The strengths perspective enhances the concept of empowerment with its focus on promoting healing. Healing implies both wholeness and the inborn ability of the mind and body to resist and regenerate when faced with disruption, disorder, or disease (Furuto, 2004). Ethnic and religious identity may lead to discrimination when the refugee is seeking a job that requires intervention on a more personal level. Long-term difficulty in finding a job that provides the family with adequate income may cause low self-esteem and family tension culminating in violence (Furuto & Murase, 1992). Various system levels often must be addressed simultaneously (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). Western thinking on designing comprehensive mental health services is mostly based on the individual as the primary system targeted for intervention; hence, existing services tend to be designed for a North American population (Mooren & Kleber, 1999). Furthermore, treatment of mental health disorders typically follows a medical model using talk therapy and drugs. Western theories also emphasize intrapersonal processes in isolation from the cultural context. The prevailing view that the responses to trauma are individual centered is in keeping with this tradition. Service providers must use the refugeesÃ¢â¬â¢ own, indigenous cultural definitions of health and illness when making mental health assessments (Boothby, 1996; Wing Sue, Ivey, & Pedersen, 1996). For example, a Bosnian client who had the Western diag nosis of major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder Ã¢â¬Å"refused medication saying that there was nothing wrong with him that medications could fix, and insisted that the clinician understand that his current condition was a result of the wrongs that had been done to him, and not because of anything that was wrong with himÃ¢â¬ (Weine & Laub, 1995, p. 255). To address the issue of respecting the clientÃ¢â¬â¢s definition of the issue, Yuen (1999) promoted a more holistic biopsychosocial model of intervention when working with Bosnian children and their families; hence, the importance of using an ethnically sensitive ecological framework becomes a second principle of culturally competent practice. A third principle is to respect the indigenous strengths and resources within Bosnians that empower them to cope with their own experiences. Chow & Yuen (2000) noted the necessity for an empowerment and capacity building model where refugees become partners in the design and elivery of services within their community. Efforts to design and deliver human service programs should include using indigenous Bosnian religious and cultural organizations, as well as self-help groups (Chow & Yuen, 2000). Conclusion After Bosnians flee their homeland, they need protection in the asylum country. This necessitates supportive policies and macrolevel intervention competence. The main policy that guides refugee resettlement in the United States is Public Law 96-212, the Refugee Act of 1980 (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). Based on the goal of helping refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible, the act defines self-sufficiency as not receiving welfare benefits (Potocky, 1996). As such, this policy may be ineffective in helping refugees to settle in an optimal manner. To become truly self-sufficient, service providers need to redefine success in more progressive ways, such as helping refugees to effectively deal with resettlement issues relating to acculturation, psychological trauma, and intergenerational conflictÃ¢â¬âall of which can impede long-term economic self-sufficiency. This new goal requires adequate fiscal resources to develop programs and engage in active community outreach (Mayadas & Segal, 2000). Social services must aspire to restore the psychological health and dignity of these families and children, who have seen the worst side of human nature. Helping them establish a positive self-image is critical to their success. While the genocide of family members and violent acts can never be forgotten, surrounding Bosnian Muslim refugees with a network of positive, supportive services can help them establish a solid foothold in the United States.