Academic journal article Refuge

More Than a "Good Back": Looking for Integration in Refugee Resettlement

Academic journal article Refuge

More Than a "Good Back": Looking for Integration in Refugee Resettlement

Article excerpt


This paper describes the experiences of twenty-four Bosnian refugees resettled in the US and explores how achieving integration relates to the US policy contexts and programs. Juxtaposing refugee perspectives and policies, "lived experience" was compared with policies on paper. Central themes included participants' language and employment struggles, social support networks that included Americans, congregational sponsorship, and participants' faith in their belief that they could fully belong in American society. Implications included a reevaluation of American resettlement policy regarding language and employment, formal support for sponsorship, and an inclusion of refugee voices in planning and implementing resettlement programs.


Cet article decrit l'experience de 24 refugies bosniaques reinstalles aux Etats-Unis, et examine comment la realisation de l'integration se rapporte au contexte et aux programmes de la politique des Etats-Unis en la matiere. Juxtaposant les points de rue des refugies et hi politique officielle, le "vecu" a ete compare a la politique telle qu'enoncee dans les textes. Les themes centraux abordes comprennent les difficultes qu'ont connues les participants avec la langue et l'emploi, les reseaux de soutien social-qui incluaient aussi des Americains-le parrainage par les congregations, et la foi des participants dans leurs croyance qu'ils pouvaient faire partie integrante de la societe americaine. Les implications comprennent une reealuation de la politique americaine de reinstallation des refugies ayant trait a la langue eta l'emploi, le soutien formel au parrainage, et l'apport des refugies dans la planification et la raise en application des programmes de riinstallation.


Approaches to refugee (1) resettlement are shaped by national policy contexts and ideological traditions. Resettlement is conceptualized at the federal level as economic self-sufficiency consisting of short-term assistance implemented locally. With a singular focus on refugees' economic participation, there is little understanding of the complexities of long-term economic stability. Restrictive government policies regarding foreign qualifications and language instruction in resettlement contribute to refugees being funnelled into low-wage jobs or the public welfare system. This article examines Bosnian refugee integration taking into account the American residual approach to resettlement. For this study, integration is defined as a refugee's social, economic, cultural, and political participation in a host country while maintaining a relationship with the country of origin. (2)

The study focused specifically on refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereafter referred to as Bosnia). As the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s, civil war in Bosnia produced more than one million refugees. Refugees from Bosnia were chosen as a case study group because they were one of the largest groups recently resettled. Their memories of home were relatively recent yet they had had at least three years of resettlement experience. Issues central to all resettling refugees, such as language proficiency, employment, education, health, and acculturation have been found to be central to Bosnian refugees as well. (3) This article draws on qualitative data to explore Bosnian refugees' experiences with resettlement. Data from twenty-four refugees from Bosnia were drawn from data collected from a larger comparative study of resettlement in Denmark and the US in 2003. The purpose of the larger study was to explore Bosnian refugees' resettlement experiences in Denmark and the US and how these experiences fused with structural factors to shape integration.

There has been limited exploration of the ways in which a state's social protection and welfare systems shape resettlement policies and how those policies in turn affect refugee integration. …

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