Refugees in flux: Bosnian refugees in Austria and the United States, 1992--2000

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations


Peter Castro


Refugees, Bosnian, Austria, United States, Women refugees

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | International Relations | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Women's Studies


This dissertation analyses the experiences of Bosnian refugees, particularly women, in Vienna, Austria, and New York City, USA. It does so by examining their resettlement within the context of each country's past and present refugee policies and practices. The study is based on in-depth interviews with 26 refugees in Vienna and 20 refugees in New York City, plus interviews with key informants in government and non-governmental organizations. I also review official policy statements, legislation, and other documents and scholarly works covering refugee status in each country.

The Bosnians' flight and adaptation were affected by shifts in refugee and asylum policies from a focus on third country resettlement to refugee containment in areas close to the conflict. Austria granted Bosnian refugees temporary protection status, instead of political asylum, denying them the legal right to work or to travel freely. In addition many Austrians viewed Balkan refugees as a threat to their national culture. In contrast, the American government granted Bosnians refugee status and provided an extensive resettlement program with a wide variety of services. The Bosnians were spared xenophobic sentiments expressed toward non-European refugees such as Haitians.

The Bosnians' social networks in the host society were often more influential in the process of adaptation than state-directed refugee policies. In Austria the Bosnian refugees defied legal prohibitions on employment in order to survive and to integrate. A substantial group of Bosnian refugee women in Vienna created social networks with previously-settled Yugoslav guest workers and native citizens, enhancing their chances for employment. In contrast, Bosnian refugees in New York found themselves in an extensive but confusing resettlement program, and they were often pushed into early economic self-sufficiency. The local welfare offices succeeded in denying many Bosnian refugees access to welfare programs.

Despite the differences in initial legal statuses, Bosnian refugees have held the same kind of jobs in both countries, independent of their previous careers. An unexpected result of this study was the discovery that agency among Bosnian refugee women did not imply a Western feminist attitude valorizing emancipation from patriarchy but rather universally rejected feminist attitudes.


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