Forced migration

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Deportees to Siberia by Kazimierz Alchimowicz (1894), National Museum in Warsaw, illustrating the torment of Polish Siberian deportees, patriots from the Russian zone of partitioned Poland in the period following the collapse of the January Uprising.
General deportation currents of the dekulakization 1930–1931

Forced migration is the coerced movement of a person or persons away from their home or home region. It often connotes violent coercion, and is used interchangeably with the terms "displacement" or forced displacement. Someone who has experienced forced migration is a "forced migrant" or "displaced person", or if it is within the same country, an internally displaced person (or IDP). In some cases the forced migrant can also become a refugee, as that term has a specific legal definition. A specific form of forced migration is population transfer, which is a coherent policy to move unwanted persons, for example, as an attempt at "ethnic cleansing". Another form is deportation.

Forced migration has accompanied persecution, as well as war, throughout human history but has only become a topic of serious study and discussion relatively recently. This increased attention is the result of greater ease of travel, allowing displaced persons to flee to nations far removed from their homes, the creation of an international legal structure of human rights, and the realizations that the destabilizing effects of forced migration, especially in parts of Africa, the Middle East, south and central Asia, ripple out well beyond the immediate region.


The concept of forced migration envelopes demographic movements like flight, evacuation, displacement, and resettlement. The International Organization for Migration defines a forced migrant as any person who migrates to "escape persecution, conflict, repression, natural and human-made disasters, ecological degradation, or other situations that endanger their lives, freedom or livelihood".[1][2]

The International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) defines it as "a general term that refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts) as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects."[3]

According to Alden Speare, "In the strictest sense migration can be considered to be involuntary only when a person is physically transported from a country and has no opportunity to escape from those transporting him." Movement under threat, even the immediate threat to life, contains a voluntary element, as long as there is an option to escape to another part of the country, go into hiding or to remain and hope to avoid persecution."[4] However this thought has been questioned, especially by Marxians, who argue that in most cases migrants have little or no choice.[4]


Causes for forced migration can include:

  • Natural disaster: Occurrence of a disaster - such as floods, tsunamis, landslides, earthquakes or volcanoes - leads to temporary or permanent displacement of population from that area. In such a scenario, migration becomes more of a survival strategy, as natural disasters often cause the loss of money, homes, and jobs. For example, Hurricane Katrina resulted in displacement of almost the entire population of New Orleans, leaving the community and government with several economic and social challenges.[5]
  • Environmental problems: The term environmental refugee has been in use recently representing people who are forced to leave their traditional habitat because of environmental factors which negatively impact his or her livelihood, or even environmental disruption i.e. biological, physical or chemical change in ecosystem.[6] Migration can also occur as a result of slow-onset climate change, such as desertification or sea-level rise, of deforestation or land degradation. Man-made disasters can also cause forced migration: examples are industrial accidents and especially accidents that involve radioactivity, such as in Chernobyl or Fukushima. An elaboration of such migrants is given by Essam El-Hinnawi:
  1. Migrants who are able to return to their original habitat once the disruption is over, as in the case of the Bhopal disaster.
  2. Migrants who remain permanently displaced.
  3. Migrants who seek better living conditions due to deterioration of environmental conditions in their present habitat, such as soil fertility.[7] In the middle of the 19th century, for example, Ireland experienced a famine never before seen in the country’s history.
  • War, civil war, political repression or religious conflicts: Some migrants are impelled to cross national borders by war or persecution, due to political, social, ethnic, religious reasons. These immigrants may be considered refugees if they apply for asylum in the receiving country.[8]
  • Development-induced displacement: Such displacement or population transfer is the forcing of communities and individuals out of their homes, often also their homelands, for the purposes of economic development. It has been historically associated with the construction of dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation purposes but also appears due to many other activities, such as mining and transport (roads, ports, airports). The best-known recent example of such development-induced displacement may be that resulting from the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China. This type of forced migration disproportionately affects low income earners and ethnic minorities. According to estimates, between 90 and 100 million people were forced to leave their homes due to development projects in the 1990s.[9]
  • Human trafficking and human smuggling: Migrants displaced through deception or coercion with purpose of their exploitation fall under this category. The data on such forced migration are limited since the activities involved are clandestine in nature. While migration of this nature is well covered for male migrants (working in agriculture, construction etc.), same cannot be said for their female counterparts as the market situation for them might be unscrupulous (sex work or domestic service). The International Labour Organization considers trafficking an offence against labor protection and denies them the opportunity of utilizing their resources for their country. ILO’s Multilateral Framework includes principle no. 11 that recommends, "Governments should formulate and implement, in consultation with the social partners, measures to prevent abusive practices, migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons; they should also work towards preventing irregular labor migration.
  • Slavery: History's greatest forced migration was the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade during the 15th through the 19th centuries. Of the 20 million Africans captured for the trade, half died in their forced march to the African coast, and another ten to twenty percent died on slave ships carrying them from Africa to the Americas.[10]
  • Ethnic cleansing: The systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group, with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous.

Destinction from other terms[edit]

Forced migrants may not apply for asylum in the country they fled to, so they cannot be classed as asylum seekers or - if application would be successful - refugees. The terms refugee and asylum seeker always have a legal framework or system as context. If forced migrants do not access this legal system or it does not exist in the country they have fled to, they cannot be categorised as such. The same is true for internally displaced persons (IDPs), because as long as they are still in their country of origin or residence they also do not have access to this legal framework. Forced mirants are always either IDPs or displaced persons, as both of these terms do not require a legal framework and the fact that they left their homes is sufficient. The destinction between the terms displaced person and forced migrant is minor, however, the term displaced person has an important historic context (e.g. World War II).

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "FORCED MIGRATION IN INDONESIA : HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES". graeme hugo. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  5. ^ "Disasters and Forced Migration in the 21st Century". 
  6. ^ Terminski, Bogumil. Environmentally-Induced Displacement: Theoretical Frameworks and Current Challenges, University de Liege, 2012
  7. ^ Forced Migration Online, Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford. "Environment and forced migration : a review Paper for 4th IRAP conference 5-9 January 1994, Oxford". 
  8. ^ Conventions No. 29, 105, 138 and 182; Convention No. 97 (Art. 3, Annex I; Art. 8 and Annex II, Art. 13); Convention No. 143, Part I; 1990 International Convention (Art. 21)
  9. ^
  10. ^ PBS-WGBH (1999). "The Middle Passage". Africans in America. Retrieved 7 November 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Betts, Alexander: Forced Migration and Global Politics. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Luciuk,Lubomyr Y.: "Ukrainian Displaced Persons, Canada, and the Migration of Memory," University of Toronto Press, 2000. Migration of people from Mirpur(AJK) for construction of Mangla Dam
  • Sundhaussen, Holm (2012). Forced Ethnic Migration. European History Online, Institute of European History. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 

External links[edit]