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
Keywords: torture, migrant, psychological trauma, border, physical trauma

Abstract

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.  

References

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: APA.

Amnesty International (2019). Pushed to the edge: Violence and abuse against refugees and migrants along the Balkans Route. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur05/9964/2019/en/

Arsenijević, J., Schillberg, E., Ponthieu, A., Malvisi, L., Ahmed, W. A. E., Argenziano, S., Zamatto, F. … de Vingne, B. (2017). A crisis of protection and safe passage: violence experienced by migrants/refugees travelling along the Western Balkan corridor to Northern Europe. Conflict and Health, 11, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13031-017-0107-z

Border Violence Monitoring Network (2020). Illegal push-backs and border violence reports. Balkan Region. December 2019. https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/December-Report-2019.pdf

Başoğlu, M., Livanou, M., Crnobarić, C., Frančišković, T., Suljić, E., Đurić, D., & Vranešić, M. (2005). Psychiatric and cognitive effects of war in former Yugoslavia: Association of lack of redress for trauma and posttraumatic stress reactions. Jama, 294(5), 580-590. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.294.5.580

Beşer, M. E., & Elfeitori, F. (2018). Libya Detention Centres: A State of Impunity. Ankara: Migration Policy Center. https://aybu.edu.tr/gpm/contents/files/enesbeser.pdf

Bouhenia, M., Farhat, J.B., Coldiron, M.E., Abdallah, S., Visentin, D., Neuman, M., Berthelot, M., Porten, K., & Cohuet, S. (2017). Quantitative survey on health and violence endured by refugees during their journey and in Calais, France. International Health, 9, 335-342. https://doi.org/10.1093/inthealth/ihx040

Crepet, A., Rita, F., Reid, A., Van den Boogaard, W., Deiana, P., Quaranta, G., Barbieri, A., …. & Di Carlo, S. (2017). Mental health and trauma in asylum seekers landing in Sicily in 2015: a descriptive study of neglected invisible wounds. Conflict and Health, 11, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13031-017-0103-3

Dimitry, L. (2012). A systematic review on the mental health of children and adolescents in areas of armed conflict in the Middle East. Child: Care, Health and Development, 38, 153-161. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2214.2011.01246.x

El-Shaarawi, N., & Razsa, M. (2019). Movements upon movements: Refugee and activist struggles to open the Balkan route to Europe. History and Anthropology, 30, 91-112. https://doi.org/10.1080/02757206.2018.1530668

Falb, K. L., McCormick, M. C., Hemenway, D., Anfinson, K., & Silverman, J. G. (2013). Violence against refugee women along the Thai–Burma border. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 120, 279-283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgo.2012.10.015

Farhat, J. B., Blanchet, K., Juul Bjertrup, P., Veizis, A., Perrin, C., Coulborn, R. M., Mayaud P., & Cohuet, S. (2018). Syrian refugees in Greece: experience with violence, mental health status, and access to information during the journey and while in Greece. BMC Medicine, 16, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1028-4

Freedman, J. (2016). Engendering security at the borders of Europe: women migrants and the Mediterranean ‘crisis’. Journal of Refugee Studies, 29, 568-582. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/few019

Guarch-Rubio, M. & Manzanero, A.L. (2020). Credibility and testimony in asylum procedures with unaccompanied refugee minors. European Journal of Migration and Law, 22(2), 257-271. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718166-12340076

Holmes, S. M., & Castañeda, H. (2016). Representing the “European refugee crisis” in Germany and beyond: Deservingness and difference, life and death. American Ethnologist, 43, 12-24. https://doi.org/10.1111/amet.12259

Hyndman, J. (2012). The geopolitics of migration and mobility. Geopolitics, 17, 243-255. https://doi.org/10.1080/14650045.2011.569321

Ibrahim, H., & Hassan, C. Q. (2017). Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms resulting from torture and other traumatic events among Syrian Kurdish refugees in Kurdistan Region, Iraq. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 241-249. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00241

Infante, C., Idrovo, A. J., Sánchez-Domínguez, M. S., Vinhas, S., & González-Vázquez, T. (2012). Violence committed against migrants in transit: experiences on the Northern Mexican border. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 14, 449-459. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10903-011-9489-y

International Organization for Migration (IOM). (2020). Flow monitoring surveys: Bosnia and Herzegovina 2019. https://bih.iom.int/sites/default/files/BiH2019report.pdf

International Organization for Migration (IOM) (2020). Key Migration Terms. https://www.iom.int/key-migration-terms

Karamanidou, L. (2016). Violence against migrants in Greece: beyond the Golden Dawn. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39, 2002-2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2015.1124124

Koning, S. M. (2019). Displacement contexts and violent landscapes: How conflict and displacement structure women's lives and ongoing threats at the Thai-Myanmar border. Social Science & Medicine, 240, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112557

Manzanero, A. L., Crespo, M., Barón, S., Scott, M. T., El-Astal, S., & Hemaid, F. (2017). Traumatic events exposure and psychological trauma in children victims of war in the Gaza Strip. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. First published November 23, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260517742911

Meçe, M. H. (2018). Risk Factors of the Irregular Migratory Waves on the Western Balkan Route: Implications in the European Union Countries. In E. Balica & V. Marinescu (Eds), Migration and Crime. Realities and Media Representations (pp. 45-67). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan

Milan, C. (2019). Refugees at the gates of the EU: Civic initiatives and grassroots responses to the refugee crisis along the western Balkans route. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 21, 43-60. https://doi.org/10.1080/19448953.2018.1532686

Peace, K. A., & Masliuk, K. A. (2011). Do motivations for malingering matter? Symptoms of malingered PTSD as a function of motivation and trauma type. Psychological Injury and Law, 4(1), 44-55. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12207-011-9102-7

Pérez-Sales, P. (2018). Migration and torture: Building a map of knowledge. Torture Journal, 28(2), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.7146/torture.v28i2.106906

Reques, L., Rolland, C., Aranda, E., Grippon, A., Fallet, N., Bensimon, C., ... & Luhmann, N. (2019). Episodes of violence suffered by migrants transiting Libya, Italy and France. European Journal of Public Health, 29(Supplement 4). https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckz186.046

Shoeb, M., Weinstein, H., & Mollica, R. (2007). The Harvard trauma questionnaire: adapting a cross-cultural instrument for measuring torture, trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder in Iraqi refugees. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 53, 447-463. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764007078362

Silva, E. A., Manzanero, A. L., Bengoa, G., & Contreras, M. J. (2018). Indicadores de trata de personas en mujeres que ejercen la prostitución en locales de alterne de la Comunidad de Madrid (España) [Indicators of trafficking in Women Practicing Prostitution in strip clubs in the Community of Madrid (Spain)]. Acción Psicológica, 15(1), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.5944/ap.15.1.19864.

Steel, Z., Chey, T., Silove, D., Marnane, C., Bryant, R. A., & Van Ommeren, M. (2009). Association of torture and other potentially traumatic events with mental health outcomes among populations exposed to mass conflict and displacement: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Jama, 302(5), 537-549. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2009.1132

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2018). Refugee and Migrant Situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. https://data2.unhcr.org/es/documents/download/63869

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2019). Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2018. https://www.unhcr.org/5d08d7ee7.pdf

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2020). Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2019. https://www.unhcr.org/5ee200e37.pdf

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (2020). Bosnia and Herzegovina: United Nations Country Team Operational Update, Refugee and Migrant situation-December 2019. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/74293

Veronese, G., Pepe, A., & Vigliaroni, M. (2019). An exploratory multi-site mixed-method study with migrants at Niger transit centers: The push factors underpinning outward and return migration. International Social Work. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020872818819736

Published
2021-02-10
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. https://doi.org/10.7146/torture.v30i3.120232