International Conference "Psychosocial Well-being of Women Forced Migrants in the Western Balkans – Then and Now", held in Geneva


On 23 November 2016 Foundation for Women’s Empowerment Bosnia and Herzegovina (FWE BiH) and Middlesex University, UK, organised a conference titled Psychosocial well-being of women forced migrants in the Western Balkans – then and now at the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, Switzerland. The aim of the conference was to disseminate the key findings from the RRPP project Engendering forced migration, socio-political transition and mental health in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo, which focused on sharing the experiences of war and forced migration and describing their effects on the mental health and well-being of long-term displaced persons.

The conference gathered both researchers and practitioners from the humanitarian sector. Jasmina Opardija-Šušnjar, Programme Manager of the RRPP, introduced the legacy of RRPP’s ten years of work in supporting the social sciences research and networks in the Western Balkans. Professor Brad Blitz, from the Middlesex University, project mentor, and Dr Selma Porobić, Project Coordinator from the Foundation for Women’s Empowerment BiH introduced the project concept, aims and outputs.

Opening remarks were given by Professor Emeritus Guy Goodwin-Gill, from the University of Oxford. His speech is titled International Law and the Legacies of Refugee Protection and can be accessed here.

Project outputs include 12 complementary studies across the three countries. Dr Porobić pointed out that research opened up important questions for further investigations of psychosocial impacts of war and displacement, stressing the long-term effects on mental health in the prevailing context of dominant short-term and interventionist approaches. Siniša Volarević, from the Group 484, Serbia, and Anela Hasanagić from FWE BiH introduced the findings of the extensive psychometric part of the project, comprising three studies conducted in BiH, Serbia and Kosovo. The psychometric research involved a total of 750 respondents from 34 municipalities with the highest numbers of registered internally displaced persons, refugees and returnees. Alen Vodopijevec promoted the E-learning platform where the project resources can be accessed, and demonstrated its wider use.

Professor Eleonore Kofman and Professor Blitz introduced the project upgrade (June-November 2016) that included life history interviews with refugee women in Serbia. The upgrade was partially motivated by prevalent media misconceptions, including the mistaken belief that the new refugee flows through the Balkan route are dominated by young males. Stressing the large presence of women and children, the speakers drew attention to their needs for psychosocial and health services and affirmed the importance of the findings from this project.

Participants discussed the long-term impacts of protracted displacement and the post-return reality through the lens of psychosocial well-being. The discussion concluded with the question: how can past experiences of displacement inform contemporary efforts aimed at protecting Syrian and other refugees in the Western Balkans today?

The screening of the documentary film Transforming War Shattered Lives – Building Peace to Return Home was organised at the end. The film shows how some Bosnian women from Prijedor found a way to transform the trauma of war and displacement into engaging activist work and community rebuilding, offering positive insights for the future of today’s displaced.
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