A postcolonial and feminist exploration of the transnational experience of return migrant women

Forced Migration, Gender Discrimination, Violence and Interseccional Approaches

by Kaltrina Kusari

Displaced populations have received increasing attention in recent years, yet the experiences of return migrants remain largely hidden within social sciences literature. Existing research suggests that policies which impact return migrants do not reflect their voices. Specifically, the UNHCR has adopted repatriation, or the right of displaced peoples to return to their country of origin, as a preferred policy solution. This, despite research which substantiates that repatriation is neither durable, nor the end of the migration cycle. In fact, depending on the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and class that return migrants experience, as many as 80% of them re-emigrate. To address this discrepancy, I conducted research in Kosovo which included interviews with return migrant women and seek to examine their experiences of return. As such, the proposed presentation builds upon study findings to offer a framework of practice with return migrants.

Focus on Kosovo is important because since 1999 Kosovo has readmitted an average of 250 returnees per month, ranking among the top ten countries of origin for return migrants. Importantly, Kosovo promotes repatriation because it aspires to join the EU and has aligned its migration strategies with those of the EU. Thus, the large number of Kosovar return migrants offers insight into both the experiences of this population and the impact of borders and immigration policies on repatriation processes. To this end, the proposed presentation aligns with the “Regular and irregular status of refugees” sub-theme.

Building upon study finding, and grounded in postcolonial and transnational feminist theories, I propose a micro to macro framework of practice which seeks to move beyond individualized assessments to address both community and structural factors that impact repatriation experiences of return migrant women. Recognizing that Kosovo’s EU integration process centers on the spread of Western ideologies and that migration is a gendered process, the proposed framework is grounded in both postcolonialism and transnational feminism. Postcolonialism addresses how the dichotomy between “self” and “other” obscures the power divide between the Global North and South, thus helping practitioners engage with Kosovo’s construction as a European ‘other’. Moreover, a transnational feminist lens is concerned with understanding the asymmetries of the globalization process and offers tools that allow practitioners to attend to intersections of race, class, gender, and ethnicity, while grappling with the complex and contradictory ways in which the Kosovo-EU power imbalance impacts repatriation experiences.

Together, these theories encourage helping professionals to contextualize repatriation within Kosovo’s socio-political and economic situation as well as Kosovo’s positionality within global power structures. As such, this framework is most applicable for helping professionals working in Kosovo and it provides a corrective to the notion that Global North models of practice are universally relevant. Yet, while resisting claims of universal applicability, certain elements of this framework might be adapted when working with forced returnees in countries that resemble Kosova in a political, social, and/or economic level. This framework is meant to be used as a guiding resource for helping professionals, rather than a checklist that discourages engagement with the complex realities of forced returnees.


Kaltrina Kusari

Kaltrina Kusari grew up in Kosovo before moving to North America to pursue higher education. The growing up in a post-war society has shaped many of her career aspirations and research interests. Her Master of Social Work research focused on the experiences of rejected asylum seekers from Kosovo, with the aim of highlighting the voices of a largely hidden migrant population. Currently, as part of her PhD, she is exploring the experiences of return migrant women to Kosovo. Staying true to her commitment to social justice, she has grounded her work in the lived experiences of marginalized migrant populations. She has also been involved with research projects which explore homelessness and housing insecurity among immigrants in Calgary and the complexities of the nexus between immigration and disability.