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Burgund Isakov, A., Zegarac, N. & Markovic, V. (2023). Surviving their journey: A trauma-informed approach to migrant children’s experiences of violence on the Western Balkan route. Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics. 9, 89–107.

Abstract

Year after year, millions of children cross international borders for many different reasons. In order to support the further strengthening of the system of protection in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in terms of responsiveness to new vulnerabilities arising from the context of migration, in-depth interviews were undertaken in 2021 with a sample of 48 youths (N=38 boys and N=10 girls), both unaccompanied and traveling with families, currently residing in camps in BiH, about their experience of violence and its impacts on their wellbeing using a trauma-informed and children’s-rights approach.

All children experienced a range of traumatic experiences on the journey, in­cluding severe violence. Even though the concept of emotional violence is unclear to them, most children plainly describe traumatic experiences, while their tendency to normalize violence is noticeable. Many of them showed symptoms of trauma responses or identified them in their siblings, younger children, and peers. Nevertheless, many children have developed various help-seeking, help-using, and self-help strategies, including joining other adults or peers, mutual help and support, the analysis of risk situations, elaboration of exit strategies, self-efficiency assessment, and a range of self-regulation and resilience-building techniques, in addition to avoidance, denial, and self-harm.

Research findings point to the diversity of children’s responses to violence and prolonged traumatic events. They also raise a lot of questions regarding the impact on children’s current and future development and well-being and the availability of trauma-informed responses and care. The results contribute to the scarce resources concerning the scientific understanding of children’s experiences of violence and the understanding of traumatic experiences among migrant and refugee children.

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