Engendering Forced Migration, Sociopolitical Transition and Mental Health in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo

(BHS Title: Rodno zasnovana studija mentalnog zdravlja u kontekstu prisilne migracije i socio-političke tranzicije u BiH, Srbiji i Kosovu)


Involved Countries: Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia, Kosovo

Involved Institutions:

  1. Foundation for Women’s Empowerment Bosnia and Herzegovina (FWE)
  2. GROUP 484, Serbia
  3. Balkan Policy Institute (IPOL), Kosovo


Project Coordinator: Dr. Selma Porobić, FWE, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Recognising a complex social, political and economic migration factors impacting human health and a significant lack of scientific research on the current state of psychosocial well-being in the Western Balkans, this project is a pioneering study into the nexus of migration, social transitioning and mental health in BiH, Serbia and Kosovo.

By means of the empirical cross-case analysis of Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, we investigate both personal and social dimensions of stressful mobility patterns and health.

The targeted populations are women forced migrants (stratified sample of both displaced and returnees) in geographical areas where these populations have large presence among the general population in the three countries.


Research Context

Questions of mental health are particularly salient in the countries of Western Balkans (WB), such as Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia and Kosovo, that face prolonged processes of social and economic transition and protracted forced migration situations. The three countries, that have been severely affected by war-induced displacement during the 1990s dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, when around 4 million people became uprooted and/or forced to flee their homes, still face number of issues regarding the full protection of displaced persons‘ rights, inlcuding the right to return and full acess to socio-economic rights, such as education, health, social protection and employment. According to UNHCR’s regional profile for South-East Europe in 2014, there are still 366,000 war displaced persons in the WB region in need of a ‘durable solution.’ Apart from acute forced migration issues still being tackled, the overall socio-demographic situation in these countries is heavily reshaped by both war-induced dispalcement and post-war socio-political instability, infused by severe economic deprivation, causing further emigration. Importantly, the number of persons with mental health difficulties in these countries is higher than the EU avergae, with the causes related to two decades of war, ethnic tensions, poverty – and lack of organisation in the mental health sector.


Research questions

Project addresses the following research questions:

  • How does the experience of inter-ethnic violence, large-scale war-displacement and protracted socio-economic transitioning affect the psychosocial health of women forced migrants in each of the three environments?
  • What is the state of their psychosocial well-being, including both distress and resilience factors in these challenging social environments?
  • What is the nature of the psychosocial support (governmental and nongovernmental and formal and informal), provided to this population?
  • What should be done to address the psychosocial needs identified among this population, and to fill the gaps in the existing programmes and policies?
  • Which good practices (if any) could authorities and different national, regional and international stakeholders take on to improve the access to and the practice of psychosocial services to women forced migrants in the three countries?



This research deploys a multi-methods approach involving a combination of integrative quantitative and qualitative methods being conducted in a following order:

  1. Policy study on state of psychosocial services in the three countries (November 2014 – September 2016);
  2. Psychometric study (January 2015-February 2016);
  3. Ethnographic fieldwork involving participatory observation (June 2015-February 2016),
  4. In-depth interviews - life history approach (February/March 2016); and
  5. Focus group discussions with practitioners - health and social workers (February-March 2016).


Project aims

By exploring the state of mental health and psychosocial support and services for forced migrants through methods that bring central attention to the lived experience of the ethnic violence, migration and socio-economic stresses, this research seeks to point to gender-specific patterns of health, mobility and social agency in the contexts of political instability and socio-economic challenges. The study involves two-year -long investigation into some of the key aspects of forced migrants’ protection rights and (inter) national policies of durable solutions.

Data collected will enable in-depth investigation of responses to environemntal stresses and adaptation strategies, as well as the insights into both access to and quality of the entitled protection and psychosocial services. The three different socio-cultural contexts studied, invite for a fruitful examination of the entanglement of meanings that women, forced migrants ascribe to their health, gender roles and social positionings.

Finally, the data collected from the respondents with the experience of displacement and return is being related to existing legal and institutional forms of support and protection as to affect current policies in the mental health and social protection sector of the three countries and map out the locally sustainable practices of geneder specific and/or sensitive psychosocial support.


The project is funded by the Regional Research Promotion Programme (RRPP), which is aimed at fostering and promoting social science research in the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia). RRPP is coordinated and operated by the Interfaculty Institute for Central and Eastern Europe (IICEE) at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). The programme is fully funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

This research is funded and supported by Regional Research Promotion Programme (RRPP), Freiburg University, Switzerland, within the thematic research call 'Migration with the particular focus on return (minority rights)'. The Swiss government has been actively involved in promoting the voluntary return and reintegration of forced migrants, by means of various kinds of support and partnerships with the governments of Kosovo, BiH and Serbia, continually stressing the provisions of adequate conditions and services for sustainable return, including the full provision of the psychosocial services.

Available research resources