Violence and torture against migrants and refugees attempting to reach the European Union through Western Balkans


  • Marta Guarch-Rubio Researcher
  • Steven Byrne
  • Antonio L. Manzanero



torture, migrant, psychological trauma, border, physical trauma


Introduction: This paper presents a study of traumatic experiences, including torture, among refugees and migrants at the border between Croatia and Bosnia. The number of people being forcefully displaced is increasing and militarized border enforcement efforts have made migration a dangerous endeavour. The European Union is externalizing its borders, but migrants and refugees have not ceased arriving in Western societies despite facing violence and torture both throughout their journey, and at the gates of Europe. Method: 54 participants were assessed, 51 males and 3 females, 26 were self-declared economic migrants and 28 stated that they fled due to political or religious persecution. The Iraqi version of the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) was adapted to collect traumatic and torture stressors experienced by the migrants/refugees during their stay in Western Bosnia, and more specifically during their detention and refoulement (push-backs) when attempting to cross the border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Results: 98.14% reported experiencing multiple forms of torture, 81.5% reported having their property looted, and 70.4% stated that they had been physically harmed on the mentioned border during  migratory transit. Torture experiences were associated with the migratory and confinement phases such as exposure to the rain and cold (92.6%) or lack of food, water and medical care (66.7%). Finally, 50% of participants fulfilled the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the cumulative effect of traumatic experiences. Differences were found only in the amount of traumatic experiences between economic migrants and refugees who fled for political or religious reasons. No differences were found in torture experiences and PTSD diagnosis. Conclusions: Violence perpetrated by security forces against migrants is crystallized at the border-zones. Migrants are held in conditions that would amount by themselves to torture. Traumatic experiences have an effect on migrants/refugees’ mental health and can trigger the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Guaranteeing human rights for migrants/refugees throughout their journey is needed.  


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How to Cite

Guarch-Rubio, M., Byrne, S., & Manzanero, A. L. (2021). Violence and torture against migrants and refugees attempting to reach the European Union through Western Balkans. Torture Journal, 30(3), 67–83.