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Identity loss and reconstruction in forced migration: The case of Bosnian refugees in Australia

Colic-Peisker, V. (2003) Identity loss and reconstruction in forced migration: The case of Bosnian refugees in Australia. In: 38th Annual Conference of the Australian Psychological Society, 2-5 October 2003, Sheraton Hotel, Perth, Western Australia.

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This paper explores the processes of identity loss during forced migration and identity reconstruction upon arrival of refugees in Australia. Identity processes can be seen as a social-psychological aspect of the refugee resettlement process. Aspects of people's identities that were embedded in their former communities, jobs, skills, language and culture are lost in forced migration. Upon arrival in a new environment refugees seek to re-build the aspects of their identity. The empirical research conducted on a sample of Bosnian refugees in Perth and Sydney indicates that, for most refugees, this process is riddled with difficulties. Unsatisfactory reconstruction of identity is associated with unemployment, loss of status, acculturation stress and social marginalisation. Successful identity reconstruction is usually a psychological counterpart of successful acculturation and labour market integration. The identity processes should not be understood as an interaction between the individual and the host society: they are influenced and mediated by the groups refugees belong to or aspire to belong to: for most people their refugee community mediates this process. Among Bosnians, the aspects of identity used in identity reconstruction and Australian acculturation may contradict each other and either add to or detract from their positive self-concept: as the 'hollow' identity of a refugee has to be shed as soon as possible, the first port of call in the identity reconstruction is the most evident racial and ethnic identity that contains being 'white'
'European', 'Muslim' and 'Bosnian'. However, a more enduring and substantial identity reconstruction seems to depend on successful socio-economic integration which opens a possibility of new desirable social roles and memberships. This 'third stage' in the identity reconstruction seems to be crucial for successful resettlement.

Item Type: Conference Item
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Publisher: Wiley
Copyright: Australian Psychological Society
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