Academic journal article Child Welfare

Social Work with Bosnian Muslim Refugee Children and Families: A Review of the Literature

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Social Work with Bosnian Muslim Refugee Children and Families: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt

More than two million Bosnian Muslims were ethnically cleansed in the Balkan region; of these, 200,000 were killed while the others were forced to flee their homes and become refugees. This article focuses on the influence of societal and cultural values coupled with wartime experiences on the transition of Bosnian refugee families to their new countries. Consideration is given to culturally competent theoretical frameworks and practice principles social workers can use to assist Bosnian Muslim children and families in their adaptation process within their resettlement communities.

Thousands of refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina have fled to the United States to seek protection from the ethno-religious 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 unique 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.

The Bosnian migration also affected the Department of Social Work at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. One of the authors of this story, Nihada Zulcic, is the first Bosnian social work major in the baccalaureate program. Her experiences in migrating from Bosnia to the local community her presence in the social work program, the broader challenges of Bosnian refugees in Bowling Green, and their effect on shaping the fabric of the local community led the authors to write this article.


This article will review the literature related to Bosnian Muslim culture to illuminate the theoretical frameworks and practice principles social workers could effectively use, including the following areas of specific interest: the history of the region, the Bosnian Muslim's experiences prior to emigrating, the problems and issues refugee families typically encountered in their resettlement countries, and the Bosnian Muslim's cultural strengths and resiliency factors.

In conducting the literature review, three methods were used. …

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