Toward Durable Solutions for Bosnia's Internally Displaced

Project Overview

Interviewing members of Bosnia’s internally displaced population in order to identify and recommend possible solutions to the challenges these individuals face.

Identifying the Problem

Seventeen years after the end of the war, some 113,000 people within Bosnia remain in internal displacement, approximately 8,500 of whom live in facilities referred to in Bosnia as “Collective Centers.” The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in Collective Centers represent the most vulnerable of the displaced, as they have proven to be among the least successful at reintegrating into a post-war environment and many are believed to suffer from extreme forms of mental and physical challenges. 

For policy makers both in Bosnia and in the larger international community, the issue of enduring internal displacement is especially challenging. The goal for all persons in displacement, whether as refugees who have crossed borders or for the internally displaced, is to achieve a durable solution for their predicament. However, questions regarding the precise features of durable solutions remain. What services might provide a durable solution? What is preventing certain individuals from achieving durable solutions? What can policy makers, the international community and civil society do to facilitate conditions that foster durable solutions?

Creating A Solution

To gain a more intimate understanding of life in a Bosnian Collective Center, Chad and Aida partnered with their contacts at the United World College in Mostar in order to conduct a qualitative, substantive survey of the residents of Tasovčići Collective Center, a housing area for IDPs on the outskirts of Mostar. They sought and obtained the involvement of six college-aged Bosnians, five of whom are HIA Senior Fellows, to conduct the surveys. In order to further enrich the research, Chad and Aida arranged meetings with individuals who could provide greater insight into the problems faced by the Bosnian IDPs, including an instructor at the United World College in Mostar, representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sarajevo and the director of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton Department for Displaced Persons and Refugees.

The survey of Tasovčići’s residents took place over the course of two days. While residents were free to decline participation, 45 of the estimated 95 residents chose to participate in the survey. The interviewers circulated through the camp, either individually or in pairs, and carried out interviews, often in the homes of the residents. The survey posed questions related to demographics (gender, ethnic group, age and marital status), health challenges (mental and physical) and reasons for original displacement. The survey also asked questions related to life in displacement, including whether residents leave the center and what, if any, income they earn. The survey sought to discover what circumstances the residents believed were necessary in order for them to voluntarily leave the centers. Finally, the survey provided residents an opportunity to identify what improvements they believed could be made to help improve their quality of life at the centers. 

The schedule for the project was as follows:

Day one

  • Chad hosted a welcome reception in Sarajevo for HIA Senior Fellows and Friends. 

Day two

  • Chad visited the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sarajevo and met with program officers who provided a rich overview of the Collective Center system. 

  • Participants met with Elma Mahmutović Hodžić, director of HIA Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Day three

  • Chad and participant Inga Kotlo travelled to Mostar to meet Kemal Isakovic, B.L., Director of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton Department for Displaced Persons and Refugees, who provided rich insights regarding the governmental efforts to manage and provide services for the residents of Collective Centers.

Day four

  • Participants departed Mostar and traveled to Tasovčići.
  • En route, the participants purchased supplies to donate to camp residents, including flour, sugar, cooking oil, milk and laundry detergent, as well as bars of chocolate and coloring books for the children.
  • Participants spent the day interviewing the camp residents.
  • Over dinner, participants discussed the day’s events.

Day five

  • Participants spent the day interviewing the camp residents.

Day six 

  • Participants returned to Sarajevo.
  • Chad hosted a reception in Sarajevo for HIA Senior Fellows and Friends, during which he shared the group’s preliminary findings.

Findings and Recommendations

The preliminary review of the surveys showed the following:

  • The residents at Tasovčići receive frequent outside support from volunteers through the United World College in Mostar, as well as from a Catholic nun from Ireland whose fundraising has allowed several residents to move out of the camp. 
  • The vast majority of the residents are ethnic Croats.
  • The homes at Tasovčići were originally designed to be used for only five years, and the housing infrastructure is clearly in poor condition. 
  • Most residents have low skill levels, making it difficult for them to compete in the local job market, though some residents are able to work as day laborers at area greenhouses.
  • Several men expressed an interest in having land they could use to cultivate their own goods, and the opportunity to use the skills they had developed in rural areas prior to the war. 
  • Many individuals indicated that they are unable to work due to physical and mental challenges. 
  • Some of the young residents have histories of drug abuse. 
  • Most residents agree that the camp is in desperate need of improved bathroom facilities, and that intra-camp thefts need to be addressed more effectively.
  • Residents expressed concern about the stigma associated with the camp’s children who attend local schools, who are derogatorily called “campers” by outside children. 

Based on these findings, the participants generally agreed that solutions for camp residents most likely need to be labor-intensive, such as job training, health management and developing life skills. The participants were especially optimistic about programs that could support children in the camp, either through scholarships or curricular enhancement.

Chad and Aida published a final report, which is intended as a useful tool not only for government representatives, but also for HIA Senior Fellows. They hope that this project and its final report will encourage Senior Fellows to maintain involvement with this population through future Action Projects. “It was incredible to have the opportunity to learn about life in displacement within Bosnia and to meet people who are living in displacement," says Chad. "It was also wonderful to have the opportunity to work directly with Bosnia’s HIA Senior Fellows who express such deep hope for the future of their country and have such remarkable energy and talent to effect change."

Participants

The following Bosnian HIA Senior Fellows joined Chad and Aida to participate in this project: 

Damir Zirojević, friend of HIA Bosnia and Herzegovina, also participated in this project.

Lessons Learned

Chad and Aida discovered that many Bosnians are not aware that there are still people in Bosnia living in displacement. By not only studying the issue but also engaging in in-depth interviews with actual residents of the camps, all participants certainly gained a much richer understanding of the causes and impact of displacement. 

Before conducting a similar survey, Chad and Aida recommend making a preliminary visit to the site to introduce yourself and explain why you would like to conduct such a survey, especially when the interviewees are members of a vulnerable population. Aida herself made a preliminary visit to Tasovčići in order to increase the likelihood that residents would participate in the interviews, as well as to identify potential challenges and the best methods for carrying out the upcoming survey.

While it is understandable to want as many participants as possible, it is not always feasible for all those who wish to participate to do so. Chad and Aida confronted this challenge by providing two opportunities for such individuals to still learn about the project. The first was a welcome reception in Sarajevo, open to all those who had expressed interest in the project but who could not participate. The second reception in Sarajevo was held after the completion of the interviews, during which Chad shared the preliminary findings with the guests.

Funding

The total cost of this project was $3,500. This included the travel for the participants to Tasovčići ($1,600), accommodation for the participants ($900), payment to the volunteers for their translation services ($400), donations to camp residents ($500), and miscellaneous costs ($100). Chad and Aida were able to fully fund their project after their project proposal was chosen as one of the winners of the HIA Senior Fellow grant competition, which seeks to empower Senior Fellows to create projects that embody HIA's educational mission and facilitate cooperation among Senior Fellows from different countries. The Senior Fellow grant fund is administered by HIA The Netherlands and supported by a generous grant from the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Department of War Victims and Remembrance.

Awards & Recognition

"Toward Durable Solutions for Bosnia's Internally Displaced" was recognized as an extraordinary action project at the Third Annual Humanity in Action International Conference, held in Sarajevo. It was also one of the winners of Humanity in Action's 2012 Senior Fellow Grants Competition.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Denmark Denmark 2000

Developed by:

    Chad Doobay
    Chad Doobay
    Senior Fellow
    Aida Salčić
    Aida Salčić
    Senior Fellow

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