Working Paper 87

From Protection to Ordeal: Duldung status and Bosnians in Berlin

Rozita Dimova

Department ‘Integration and Conflict’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 87

This paper examines a fundamental paradox underlying humanitarianism in Germany (and Berlin in particular) towards Bosnian refugees who arrived in the country after the Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s. The generous welcome which extended to more than 300,000 people was coupled with the constant reminder that displaced people were not being given refugee status under the terms of the 1951 Geneva Convention but rather a so-called “tolerated” Duldung status of temporary protection. This paper focuses on a central contradiction of the Duldung status for refugees, which, on the one hand afforded important humanitarian relief, but on the other generated tremendous uncertainties as to whether or how protection would come to an end – especially as substantial numbers of refugees found themselves subject to deportation. The experience of Duldung status as an ordeal rather than as protection has generated traumas related to constant fear of detention or deportation, which have often proved to be as powerful as those flowing from the earlier horrors of war. These new traumas have blended in people’s lived experience, confounding conventional medical definitions of trauma, healing, mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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