From August 1999 to July 2001, asylum seekers who had come to Switzerland from Kosovo were repatriated. The present study aimed to assess the relationship between living conditions during asylum in Switzerland and health status among returnees.
Cross-sectional survey of 319 ethnic Albanian families in Kosovo, selected from a list of 12 900 heads of households who had received repatriation aid.
Consenting household members aged 16 years or more who had received asylum in Switzerland were interviewed during the autumn of 2001. Questions explored living conditions during asylum, present socio-economic conditions (World Bank Kosovo Poverty Assessment Survey), subjective physical and mental health [Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36)], traumatic events (Harvard Trauma Questionnaire) and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview).
Ninety-four per cent of selected households were located. Among the 580 participants, 25.5% suffered from PTSD and 65% lived in extreme poverty. Subjective health scores, measured by SF-36, were low, particularly for those affected by PTSD. Among living conditions in the host country, duration of stay longer than 26 weeks was associated with lower mental health scores, particularly among people with PTSD.
Two years after the conflict, returnees had low health scores. The association between duration of stay and lower mental health scores may reflect the stress of adapting to asylum or the consequence of compulsory repatriation. This study has implications for the emerging healthcare system in Kosovo and for policies of asylum in host countries.