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The problems of forced migration: experience of being a refugee in Serbian society
Problemi prisilne migracije: iskustva izbeglištva u srpskom društvuSabina Hadžibulić 1
The power of a state and maturity of a nation are measured by their capability to assist and support to their most threatened citizens. Due to significant political, social and economic changes in Serbia, almost everyone is threatened by poverty. In addition, there are categories of citizens with a specifically marginalised status. Refugees certainly can be classified into that category. They are paying a double price: the price of transition common to all citizens as well as the unique penalty of their own status).
Keywords: Spirituality, Forced Migrations, Refugees, Refugees in Serbian Society
It is estimated that currently about 22-25 million persons world-wide have been forced to migrate within the borders of their home countries, and their movements represent only one aspect of much wider constellations of socio-political and cultural processes and practices (Malkki, 2005, p. 20). The phenomenon stems from various causes, therefore producing a variety of qualitatively different situations in which refugees may find themselves. These situations are primarily patterned by the diverse administrative and legal statuses of the refugees. The definition actually includes refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers and persons who are subject to trafficking (human trafficking). Most of them are recorded in Africa (more than a half of the registered number), but there are significant numbers in Asia, Europe and the American continent. Such migrations of citizens often affect the condition of a community and society, resulting in significant social changes.
Exile: the concept, history, characteristics
A basic legal definition of refugee status is presented in 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees: ‘A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership to a particular social group or political opinion, is located outside the country of his/her citizenship and owing to such fear is unable or unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country; or who, resulting from such events, ends up not having a nationality and stays outside the country of his/her former residence, is unable, owing to such fear, to return to it’ (Melander, Nobel, according to Malkki, 2005, p. 29). The International Organization for Migrations (IOM), attempting to define this status more precisely stresses that in 1969 the Organisation of African Community (now the African Union) had approved an extended definition which entails each person forced to leave their homes due to aggression, external occupation, foreign reign or events seriously disrupting public order in a part or entire country of origin or nationality.
Having considered the history of exile, Liisa H. Malkki (2005, pp. 22-32) stresses that people have always searched for refuge and shelter. However, a refugee as a specific social category and legal problem of global dimensions appeared just after the World War Two in Europe. A policy of managing of forced migrations developed, followed by the construction of an entire administrative procedure. Such processes identified a modern, post-war refugee as a perceivable figure having a name and being a subject of socio-scientific knowledge. Simultaneously, the ’Refugee Camp was established as the standard solution technology of power in solving the mass migrations problem’ (Malkki, 2005, p. 23). Thanks to their confinement to camps, as Malkki states (2005, p. 28), the people in them were available for an entire set of investigations including study and documentation, thus defining ‘a modern refugee’ in that very context.
At the very beginning, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was in charge of refugees. Back then the issue of refugees was considered a military problem. Later, a few civil international organisations were established. Firstly the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees (IGCR), and then the International Refugee Organization (IRO), the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the appointment of a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Thus, consideration of this problem primarily from a social and humanitarian aspect was enabled.
In his efforts to establish a sociology of ‘exile, displacement and belonging’, Stephen Castles (2003, pp. 14-17) looks for a sociological argument that would stress the importance of scientific research of forced migrations in today’s world. That is why refers to Bauman, who argues that ‘mobility has become the most powerful and the most coveted stratifying factor’. The new global economic and political elites are free to cross borders, whereas the poor remain in the same spot: ‘Wealth is global, Misery is local’ (Bauman, according to Castles, 2005, p. 16). On the other side, there is a clear relationship between the process of globalisation and forced migrations. While globalisation is a movement seeking to replace static national parameters with fluid international ones its practical effect has been to marginalize certain areas and groups. That kind of process builds up and sustains inequalities, which can be seen clearly in the North-South divide, which is more of a social, rather than a geographical nature. These processes of increasing/decreasing inequalities, as Castels argues, are causing conflicts and forced migrations. Failed economies generate a number of consequences (weak states, predatory ruling cliques, human rights abuse, etc.), so that the dividing line between forced and economic migration becomes blurred. Forced and economic migrations are closely related and often represent indistinguishable forms and indicators of global inequalities and social crises, which have gained in volume and importance since the supersession of the bipolar world order.
According to Castles (2003, p. 14), world’s refugee population increased from 2.4 million in 1975 to 10.5 million in 1985, and subsequently to 14.9 million in 1990. The peak was reached after the Cold War with 18.2 million in 1993. Till 2000 that number has decreased to 12.1 million. He explains the fall in numbers after 1995 by citing the introduction of ‘non-arrival’ policies introduced in some countries to limit or stop immigration. These had the effect of reducing the number of those strictly defined as refugees because these people were obliged either to stay where they were or resort to illegal migration (smuggling) if sufficiently desperate.
Position and perception of refugees in Serbian society
The collapse of the social system, disintegration of the political community, and a long-lasting civil war, significantly marked the last decade of 20th century in former Yugoslavia. A tragic outcome of this dissolution was also reflected in the large number of refugees and displaced people. In Serbia, two national institutions are in charge of refugees the Red Cross and the Commissioner for Refugees in Serbia (founded in 1992), as well as numerous local NGOs and international humanitarian organisations.
First data analysis from the 2001 registration showed that out of 451,980 people registered in Serbia, 377,731 had a full refugee status, whereas 74,249 persons endangered by war did not fulfil the conditions for providing a full refugee status according to international law. Most of them originated from Croatia (about 63%), while the number of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina was at the level of 36%. A certain number of refugees fled from Slovenia and Macedonia (mostly persons employed by the army accompanied by their families) (Bobić, 2005, p. 128). The same year, 408 collective centres were registered wherein 30,056 persons were accommodated, out of which 20,949 were refugees and 9,107 internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija. About 10,000 people were residing in ‘illegal’, unregistered collective centres, while others were renting houses or finding an exile in their cousins’ and friends’ homes. According to results of Mirjana Bobić’ s research (2005), a number of 379,135 refugees were registered on the territory of the Republic of Serbia in 2002, making 5% of the total population. The reduction in the number of registered persons by 2005 was because almost 100,000 people were granted a citizenship, while some went back to their country of origin or to other countries. UNHCR report from June 2010 shows that Serbia with its 86,000 refugees and 21,000 internally displaced persons is the leading country in Europe regarding forced migrations.
Just 15 years ago there were 700 collective centres for those with no property, and neither a job nor any chance of getting one. Today, in Serbia there are still 54 collective centres and 40 of an informal type not under direct competence of the Commissioner, but whose inmates are entitled to basic aid. From the outset people, and particularly the younger and more resourceful began to move but there now remain those who are unable to take care of themselves. Prior to shutting down a collective centre it is necessary to provide a living space for each resident. Some of these decide to build their own house, so they receive aid in building materials or finance, while others get a flat or rural property. The oldest and weakest people are transferred into accommodation centres with safe conditions or to nursing homes.
Today every 10th resident of Vojvodina and every 25th in Serbia has refugee status. The largest concentration of refugees is in Belgrade and Niš, as well as in Novi Sad and Sombor in Vojvodina. Most of them came from Croatia (61.5%), followed by the ones from Bosnia and Herzegovina (34.7%). This population contains a slightly higher proportion of females (52.4%), a dominant age range of 4-49 (18.2%). Almost half (49.3%) have secondary education and 64.25% are in regular employment.
A research made by Cvetković (1998) on a sample of 4,104 people showed that, although being an inhomogeneous and incoherent group, refugees in Serbia still have a specific demographic profile. Firstly, the average model represents a married woman of 30-45 years, Serbian nationality, orthodox; with secondary education, a housewife or a clerk (formerly employed in in a state-owned company). Where her property has been damaged or destroyed she usually lives with relatives and being the beneficiary of state and international humanitarian aid; is unwilling to go back to her home country, preferring to settle permanently in the Republic of Serbia.
In Serbia, the status of refugees and of internally displaced persons is particularly difficult because, as stated by Bobić (2005), Serbia itself is passing through a process of belated post-socialist transformation, encompassing increased unemployment, social exclusion, mortality, many socio - pathological phenomena, increasing social polarisation, etc. This is the reason why refugees are paying a double price that is the price of a transition common to all along with their own unique price (Illich, according to Bobić, 2005, p. 125). They are repressed to ‘margins of social life, to the bottom of social scale via politics, media, law, as well as by people’s behaviour in everyday life’ (Bobić, 2005, p. 136).
In order to solve the refugee problem permanently, there are possible solutions: by repatriation to the country of origin, by integration in the host country and by departure to other countries.
Even though repatriation is considered as the basic way of solving the refugee problem, data available to the Government of the Republic of Serbia show that most of the refugees choose to stay in the host country, i.e. to integrate into new environment (60.6% refugees from Croatia and 59.8% from BIH). That is why Government of Republic of Serbia and Commissioner for Refugees started a coordinated program for creating permanent settlements for refugees on its territory, conceding constructions of the settlements and providing of one job per family.
The experience of a refugee is unusual land, specific and his/her position is very complex. In a way, he/she can ‘be proud of being a ‘refugee’ and having survived unspeakable horrors; but also it marks a lack of homeland and of previous social status and identity and self-worth….’ (O’Neil & Spybey, 2005, p. 8).
The name ‘forced migrants’ itself clearly indicates reluctance to conduct such migration. Forced migrants are the persons forced to leave homes where their lives are threatened and relocate and become dislocated outside, or inside their countries of origin. Leaving his/her place of origin and stripped of his/her previous identity, in a social sense a refugee is a ‘zombie’ whose haunting past lingers on in a world where his/her symbolic capital does not count. A person whose social actuality is in a state of, social depletion’ characterised by the absence of social determination, rights and responsibilities (Bauman, according to Diken, 2009, p. 117). In most cases being at the social margins, a refugee is presented as the most powerless one, i.e. a member of the least influential part of the modern society. Regularly the refugees themselves are considered a problem, not the circumstances that led to the refugee status (Binder & Tošić, 2005, p. 87). Refugees are even associated with humanitarian, legal, social, and psychological problems. It is believed that once the refugees leave their community and homeland, they are automatically ‘uprooted’ from their own culture, with lost identity, value system and tradition. Therefore the, category of refugees is easily stigmatised and portrayed as a pathological phenomenon in an otherwise stable and integrated society. The country of origin is thought of as the ideal place for living, the only place where an individual has a complete identity and to whose culture he/she entirely belongs. Through such a feeling of ‘uprootdeness’, refugees are naturally labelled with certain negative characteristics which further represent them as an on-going problem and a threat to society. It is now widely accepted that refugees are passive individuals, who are beneficiaries only and unable actively to shape their lives. Even with the ‘best intentions’, they are being stigmatised as a passive, nonworking, and even pathological element (Binder & Tošić, 2005, p. 89).
People expelled from their homes, having settled in the host country, are going through the processes of social metamorphosis. They firstly experience existential difficulties, followed by other problems, and are then forced to adapt to a new cultural environment. All this makes them create a new identity, since the difference between their prior and current status is frequently significant. Measures of assistance certainly enhance their more successful integration into the new environment. The measures should not be one-sided and uniform as they would thus be turned into passive beneficiaries. As stated by Binder S. and Tošić J. (2005, p. 84), measures of assistance and integration of the refugees should always be designed to fit the cultural and subjective biographical context of the refugees, having in mind strategies of living and survival that they have developed in he host country. Such an approach takes into account the cultural self-awareness and active role of refugees in the society that accepted them and enables a correct form, and adequate volume, of aid to be determined and thus avoid the danger of counterproductive passivisation of refugees.
The modern era has led to a massive forced migrations and the possibility of crossing the vast distances in search of refuge. Being a refugee implies a very complex position and a particularly sensitive human experience. Considering the fact that migration is a complex relationship between migrants, countries of origin and destination countries, it is necessary to develop an appropriate migration policy that would regulate it clearly and comprehensively. Following this track, it is obvious that each refugee crisis is becoming an issue that concerns the wider region, not just one country or its neighbours. Therefore, for the benefit of each country and region, it is of great importance to ensure the successful integration of immigrants into the social, economic and cultural life, precisely because they can and do contribute greatly to a better demographic picture of the entire population, and a more effective social, economic and culturally dynamic society.
Binder, S. & Tošić, J. (2005) ‘Istraživanje izbeglištva’, in Studije o izbeglištvu, ed I. Milenković, Grupa 484, Beograd.
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Castles, S. (2003) ‘Towards a Sociology of Forced Migration and Social Transformation’, Sociology, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 13-349.
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