Forced Migration
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Forced Migration
Displaced persons in 2017[1]
Total population
65.6 million[2]
Regions with significant populations
Refugees17.187 million
IDPs36.627 million
Asylum seekers2.826 million
People in refugee-like situation803,134
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
The Amam refugee camp is named after its first native, born just two weeks ago. Her name, Amam, means peace.

Forced displacement (or forced migration/immigration) is the involuntary or coerced movement of a person or people away from their home or home region, resulting from causes including natural disasters, violence, and persecution. Specific examples may include droughts, civil wars, and population transfer, forcing populations to relocated or flee to another country. A person or people who experienced forced displacement may be referred to, among other terms, as: "forced immigrant," "displaced person/persons" (DP), or, if within the same country, "internally displaced person/persons" (IDP). While some displaced persons may be considered refugees, the terms specifically refers to displaced persons receiving legally-defined protections recognized by countries and/or international organizations.

Currently, forced displacement continues gaining attention in international discussions and policy making, partly resulting from a greater ease of travel facilitating migration, increased discussion surrounding international human rights protections, and greater consideration to the impacts of forced migration on other regions. Approximately over 60 million people may be considered forcibly displaced since the onset of the 21st century, with the majority coming from the Global South.[3]


The concept of forced displacement 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".[4][5]

The International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) defines it as "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."[6]

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."[7] However this thought has been questioned, especially by Marxians, who argue that in most cases migrants have little or no choice.[7]


Natural causes for forced displacement 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.[8]
  • 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 their livelihood, or even environmental disruption i.e. biological, physical or chemical change in ecosystem.[9] 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: Examples are industrial accidents and especially accidents that involve chemicals or radioactivity, such as in Chernobyl, Bhopal or Fukushima.
  • 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.[6]

Refugees as weapons for forced displacement can include:

  • 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.[10]
  • 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 people trafficking; 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.[11]
  • 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. For example, during counter-Reformation the Catholics removed of Protestants during the 16th through 19th centuries in Europe (e.g. Salzburg Protestants).


In the majority of cases forced migration across borders takes place without the required documentation. It may even involve human smugglers and traffickers. Displaced persons are often forced to place their lives at risk, are obliged to travel in inhumane conditions and may be exposed to exploitation and abuse. The states where they seek protection may regard them as a threat to their security.[12] Displaced persons face risks of becoming poorer than before displacement, of being financially vulnerable, and socially disintegrated.[13] The impacts of forced displacement vary according to the displaced person's ability to recover from the shock of displacement. Individuals are displaced by conflict and then depleted of their assets upon arrival to a new country where they can also face cultural, social, and economic discontinuity.[14]

Forced displacement as a weapon

"Refugees as Weapons", or "Weapon of Mass Migration" is a term used for mass exodus of refugees from a state to a hostile state as a "weapon" against an enemy. Weaponized migration occurs when a challenging state or non-state actor exploits human migration--whether voluntary or forced--in order to achieve political, military, and/or economic objectives. Kelly Greenhill counts 56 attempts (1951 to 2006) to employ the direct or indirect threat of mass migrations as a non-military instrument of influence. Read more...

Responses to forced displacement

Responses for forcibly displaced persons vary across multiple levels. Response at the global stage is done by participating international agencies (e.g. the UNHCR) and by members of international conventions. The rights and protections of the different categories of forcibly displaced persons have been addressed by, e.g., the 1951 Refugee Convention, the 1967 Protocol, the Kampala Convention, or the 1998 Guiding Principles.[15][13] These protections, however, are not always respected or met.

World organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, as well as individual countries have also directly responded to the challenges faced by displaced people by providing humanitarian assistance or forcibly intervening in the country of conflict. The absence of neutrality and limited resources has affected the capabilities of international humanitarian action to mitigate the forces causing mass displacement.[16] These broad forms of assistance can also not fully address the multidimensional needs of displaced persons.

Sources of action can occur at more local levels such as the individual's place of relocation. Lived in experiences of displaced persons will vary according to the state and local policies of their country of relocation. Policies reflecting national exclusion of displaced persons may be undone by inclusive urban policies. Sanctuary cities are an example of spaces that regulate their cooperation or participation with immigration law enforcement.[17] The practice of urban membership upon residence allows displaced persons to have access to city services and benefits, regardless of their legal status.[18] Sanctuary cities have been able to provide migrants with greater mobility and participation in activities limiting the collection of personal information, issuing identification cards to all residents, and providing access to crucial services such as health care.[17] Access to these services can ease the hardships of displaced people by allowing them to healthily adjust to life after displacement.

Overview and distinctions between the terms

  • The term 'Refugee Studies' denotes an academic discipline or field of study which covers the study of refugees, often their experiences in seeking refuge.[19] There are several categories of individuals who are included in this study, with labels that include: 'Refugee'; 'expellees'; 'exile'; 'displaced person'; 'internally displaced person (IDP)'; 'economic refugees'; 'humanitarian refugee'; 'stateless person'; 'tsunami refugee'; 'development refugee'; 'environmental refugee'; 'government assisted refugee (GAR)' etc.[19]
  • The term displaced person (DP) was first widely used during World War II and the resulting refugee outflows from Eastern Europe,[20] when it was used to specifically refer to one removed from their native country as a refugee, prisoner or a slave laborer. Most of the victims of war, political refugees and DPs of the immediate post-Second World War period were Ukrainians, Poles, other Slavs, as well as citizens of the Baltic states - Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians, who refused to return to Soviet-dominated eastern Europe. A.J. Jaffe claimed that the term was originally coined by Eugene M. Kulischer.[21] The meaning has significantly broadened in the past half-century.
  • If the displaced person has crossed an international border and falls under one of the relevant international legal instruments, they may become a refugee.[22] The term "refugee" is also commonly used as a synonym for displaced person, causing confusion between the general descriptive class of anyone who has left their home and the subgroup of legally defined refugees who enjoy specified international legal protection. However, forced migrants may not apply for asylum in the country they fled to, so they may not 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.
  • Forced migrants are always either IDPs or displaced people, as both of these terms do not require a legal framework and the fact that they left their homes is sufficient. The distinction 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).
  • A displaced person who crosses an international border without permission from the country they are entering, and without applying for asylum, may be considered an illegal immigrant.
  • A displaced person who left their home because of political persecution or violence, but did not cross an international border, is commonly considered to be the less well-defined category of internally displaced person (IDP), and is subject to more tenuous international protection. In 1998, the UN Commission of Human Rights published the Guiding Principles which defined internally displaced people as "persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes or places of habitual residence in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or human-made disasters and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border."[23] Bogumil Terminski distinguishes two general categories of internal displacement: displacement of risk (mostly conflict-induced displacement, deportations and disaster-induced displacement) and displacement of adaptation (associated with voluntary resettlement, development-induced displacement and environmentally-induced displacement).
  • If the displaced person was forced out their home because of economically driven projects like that of the Three Gorges Dam in China and various Indian dams, it is called development-induced displacement. People are also often displaced due to natural or man-made disasters. Displacement can also occur as a result of slow-onset climate change, such as desertification or sea-level rise. A person who is displaced due to environmental factors which negatively impact their livelihood is generally known as an environmental migrant. Such displacement can be cross-border in nature but is frequently internal. No specific international legal instrument applies to such individuals. Foreign nations often offer disaster relief to mitigate the effects of such disaster displacement.
  • Displaced person generally refers to one who is forced to migrate for reasons other than economic conditions, such as war or persecution. A migrant who fled because of economic hardship is an economic migrant.

Criminal prosecution

Forced displacement has been subjected to several trials before local and international courts. One of the requirements that need to be met for an offence as a war crime is that the victim is a "protected person" under international humanitarian law. The expression "protected person" originally referred only to the categories of individuals explicitly protected under one of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, but was later accepted as defining a civilian or police force who do not participate directly in a conflict.[24] Following the end of World War II, the Krupp trial was held with a specific charge to the forced displacement of civilian populations for the purpose of forced labour. The US Military Tribunal concluded that " [t]here is no international law that permits the deportation or the use of civilians against their will for other than on reasonable requisitions for the need of the army, either within the area of the army or after deportation to rear areas or to the homeland of the occupying power".[24] At the Nuremberg trials, Hans Frank, chief jurist in occupied Poland, was found guilty, among others for forced displacement of the civilian population.[25]

In Article 49, the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted on 12 August 1949, specifically forbids forced displacement:

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines forced displacement as a crime within the jurisdiction of the court:

Several people were tried and convicted by the ICTY for connection to forced displacement during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. On 11 April 2018, the Appeals Chamber sentenced Vojislav ?e?elj 10 years in prison under Counts 1, 10, and 11 of the indictment for instigating deportation, persecution (forcible displacement), and other inhumane acts (forcible transfer) as crimes against humanity due to his speech in Hrtkovci on 6 May 1992, in which he called for the expulsion of Croats from Vojvodina.[28][29][30] Other convictions for forced displacement included ex-Bosnian Serb politician Mom?ilo Kraji?nik,[31] ex-Croatian Serb leader Milan Marti?,[32] former Bosnian Croat paramilitary commander Mladen Naletili?,[33] and Bosnian Serb politician Radoslav Br?anin.[34]

See also


  1. ^ UNHCR (17 June 2017). "UNHCR worldwide population overview". UNHCR. Retrieved 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Aleinikoff, Alexander (May 15, 2016). Revitalizing the International Response to Forced Migration: Principles and Policies for the 'New Normal (PDF). Columbia Global Policy Initiative. pp. 1-2.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-21. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ a b "What is forced migration? -- Forced Migration Online".
  7. ^ a b "FORCED MIGRATION IN INDONESIA : HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES". graeme hugo. Retrieved 2011.
  8. ^ "Disasters and Forced Migration in the 21st Century".
  9. ^ Terminski, Bogumil. Environmentally-Induced Displacement: Theoretical Frameworks and Current Challenges, University de Liege, 2012
  10. ^ 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)
  11. ^ PBS-WGBH (1999). "The Middle Passage". Africans in America. Retrieved 2016.
  12. ^ | page 16
  13. ^ a b Newman, Edward, editor (January 2005). Refugees and Forced Displacement : International Security, Human Vulnerability and the State. United Nations Publications. ISBN 9789280810868. OCLC 697762571.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Fiala, Nathan (2015-09-18). "Economic Consequences of Forced Displacement". The Journal of Development Studies. 51 (10): 1275-1293. doi:10.1080/00220388.2015.1046446. ISSN 0022-0388.
  15. ^ Abbas, Mohamed; Aloudat, Tammam; Bartolomei, Javier; Carballo, Manuel; Durieux-Paillard, Sophie; Gabus, Laure; Jablonka, Alexandra; Jackson, Yves; Kaojaroen, Kanokporn (December 2018). "Migrant and refugee populations: a public health and policy perspective on a continuing global crisis". Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control. 7 (1). doi:10.1186/s13756-018-0403-4. ISSN 2047-2994. PMC 6146746. PMID 30250735.
  16. ^ Castles, Stephen (2003-09-01). "The International Politics of Forced Migration". Development. 46 (3): 11-20. doi:10.1177/10116370030463003.
  17. ^ a b Houston, Serin (2019-02-06). "Conceptualizing sanctuary as a process in the United States". Geographical Review. doi:10.1111/gere.12338. ISSN 0016-7428.
  18. ^ Kaufmann, David (2019-02-11). "Comparing Urban Citizenship, Sanctuary Cities, Local Bureaucratic Membership, and Regularizations". Public Administration Review. 79 (3): 443-446. doi:10.1111/puar.13029. ISSN 0033-3352.
  19. ^ a b Cameron, Bobby Thomas (2014). "Reflections on Refugee Studies and the Study of Refugees: Implications for Policy Analysts" (PDF). Journal of Management & Public Policy. 6: 4-13.
  20. ^ Mark Wyman: Dps: Europe's Displaced Persons, 1945-1951. Cornell University Press 1998 (reprint). ISBN 0-8014-8542-8.
  21. ^ A. J. Jaffe: Notes on the Population Theory of Eugene M. Kulischer. In: The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 2. (April 1962). Pp. 187-206.(online)
  22. ^ U.N. Convention relating to status of Refugees Archived March 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Robinson, W. Courtland (2003). Risks and rights : the causes, consequences, and challenges of development-induced displacement. The Brookings Institution. OCLC 474499753.
  24. ^ a b Guido Acquaviva (June 2011). "Legal and Protection Policy Research Series: Forced Displacement and International Crimes" (PDF). UNHCR. Retrieved 2018.
  25. ^ "Nuremberg Trial Judgements: Hans Frank". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2018.
  26. ^ "Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949 - DEPORTATIONS, TRANSFERS, EVACUATIONS". ICRC. Retrieved 2018.
  27. ^ "Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court" (PDF). International Criminal Court. 2011. p. 7. Retrieved 2018.
  28. ^ "APPEALS CHAMBER REVERSES ?E?ELJ'S ACQUITTAL, IN PART, AND CONVICTS HIM OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY". United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. 11 April 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  29. ^ "UN court sentences ultranationalist Serb leader to 10 years". TRT World. Retrieved 2018.
  30. ^ "Serbia: Conviction of war criminal delivers long overdue justice to victims". Amnesty International. Retrieved 2018.
  31. ^ "UN tribunal transfers former Bosnian Serb leader to UK prison". UN News. 8 September 2009. Retrieved 2018.
  32. ^ "UN tribunal upholds 35-year jail term for leader of breakaway Croatian Serb state". UN News. 8 October 2008. Retrieved 2018.
  33. ^ "Bosnian Croat commander convicted by UN tribunal to serve jail term in Italy". UN News. 25 April 2008. Retrieved 2018.
  34. ^ "Bosnian Serb politician convicted by UN tribunal to serve jail term in Denmark". UN News. 4 March 2008. Retrieved 2018.

Further reading

External links

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