The effects of traumatic experiences during transit and pushback on the mental health of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants

There are 26 million people recognised as refugees worldwide. Many of them spent a prolonged period of time in transit – time after they leave their country of origin and before they reach the receiving country. Transit brings numerous protection and mental health risks refugees are exposed to.


The aim of this study was to assess the stressful and traumatic experiences refugees are exposed to during transit, with a special focus on the experience of pushback – the denial of access to the territory to foreign nationals and forcible return to countries of origin or neighbouring countries without an assessment of their rights to international protection, as well as the impact of these experiences on refugees’ mental health and well-being.


201 refugees currently residing in Serbia completed the Stressful and Traumatic Experiences in Transit questionnaire – short version (SET-SF), questionnaire for assessing stressful and traumatic experiences during pushback (SET-SF PB), Refugee Health Screener (RHS-15), and Well-being index (WHO-5).


The results showed that refugees experience a large number of stressful and traumatic events (M = 10.27, SD = 4.85). In addition, half of the participants experience severe symptoms of depression (50.7%), while about a third of the participants experience severe symptoms of anxiety (37.8%) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (32.3%). Refugees who experienced pushback showed overall higher levels of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Traumatic experiences during transit and pushback were positively related to the severity of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. In addition, traumatic experiences during pushback showed an incremental contribution in predicting refugees’ mental health difficulties over and above traumatic experiences in transit.


This study provides valuable insights into the multiple risks refugees are exposed to and emphasise the need for the provision of adequate protection and support.



  • There is a high prevalence of traumatic experiences refugees face during transit and pushback, a high prevalence of mental health problems, and impaired psychological well-being in refugees.
  • Traumatic experiences contribute to mental health problems.
  • Urgent measures are needed.
Maša Vukčevi ć Marković, Aleksandra Bobić & Marko Živanović | 2023
In: European Journal of Psychotraumatology ; ISSN: 2000-8066 | 14 | 1 | january | 2163064
Anxiety Disorders, Asylum Seekers, Depressive Disorders, Instruments, Mental health, Migrants, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD (en), Refugees, Research, Traumatic events