Many asylum-seekers arriving to Bosnia and Herzegovina have experienced pain, suffering, violence and other severe traumatic experiences, either in their country of origin or on the way. BiH authorities, with the help of the international community and civil society, provide the basic humanitarian aid to the arriving people, including safe and dignified accommodation, such as accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees in Delijaš and Salakovac, and the temporary reception center in Ušivak.
A substantial number of arriving people need psycho-social support, especially now that they share the fate of the local population and together they are struggling with the horrors brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
– During a pandemic, everyone is vulnerable, and no-one is safe unless all are safe. However, dealing with the issue of the pandemic, on top of the consequences of traumatic experiences experienced in their countries of origin or on the way to a better life, is extremely challenging, says the psychologist of the Bosnian Women’s Initiative Foundation Anela Omanić.
In order to support the relevant institutions, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, helped the establishment of a psychosocial assistance network in three centers with the aim, in addition to direct assistance, to identify persons in of international protection in BiH and assist the government bringing the access to the asylum system closer to them.
In their day-to-day work, social workers, psychologists and cultural mediators from the BiH Women’s Initiative (BHWI) team, a civil society association partnered with UNHCR, make initial contacts with asylum-seekers. The cultural mediators of the BHWI team help to overcome cultural differences by forming a bridge of trust so that those in need receive psychological support.
– The initial interview follows the verbal and non-verbal communication of people accommodated in the centers. We also rely on the help of our cultural mediators who are familiar with the customs and culture of their country of origin. They are usually well perceived by the arriving people, often compatriots, and more open to discussion on needs and issues at hand, says Omanić.
Traumatic experiences from countries of origin, stress suffered during travel, but also stress caused by a pandemic, often result in fear, feelings of anxiety, depression and other forms of psychological disorders. The help of the BHWI team’s psychologists is valuable and is the only way to restore the dignity that, according to psychologist Omanić, was lost on the road or in the country of origin.
– Through individual or group psycho-social counselling, we try to give these people a sense of security, belonging and equality but the needs are different, and everyone copes differently with the consequences of traumatic experiences. Someone needs a glass of water, someone a blanket, food, milk for children … There are also those who just need someone to listen to and say a nice word, Omanić notes.
The social workers of the BHWI team are in constant contact with the most vulnerable people and, in addition, closely monitor their psycho-social situation.
– Everyone has suffered some loss, so the most important thing for us from the BHWI team is to provide them with understanding and support, and to help them overcome the problems they face, concludes Omanić.
With the support of the people of the United States of America since the beginning of 2020, UNHCR / BHWI, in close cooperation and in support to the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, provided 2,360 PSS assistance in Ušivak, 479 assistance at the Salakovac Reception Center and 240 assistance at the Delijaš Asylum Center.
TEXT AND PHOTO: BHWI/Alena BEŠIREVIĆ