Population transfer

From Academic Kids

Population transfer is a term referring to a policy by which a state forces the movement of a large group of people out of a region, invariably on the basis of ethnicity or religion. By contrast, individuals and smaller groups of their politically effective adherents may be banished or exiled for political reasons.

Often, the affected population would be transferred to a region not adjacent or even suited to their way of life, the transfer would be forced, and would cause them substantial harm.

When two populations are transferred in opposite directions at about the same time, the process has been called a population exchange. Such exchanges took place as late as the early 20th century, e.g. as part of agreements between post-Ottoman Turkey and Greece.


Issues arising from population transfer

According to political scientist Norman Finkelstein transfer was considered as an almost humanist solution to the problems of ethnic conflict, up until around World War II and even a little afterward, in certain cases. Transfer was considered a drastic but 'often necessary' means to end an ethnic conflict or ethnic civil war. The feasibility of population transfer was hugely increased by the creation of railroad networks from the mid-19th century.

Population transfer differs more than simply technically from individually-motivated migration, though at times of war, the act of fleeing from danger or famine often blurs the differences. If a state can preserve the fiction that migrations are the result of innumerable "personal" decisions, then the state may be able to justify its stand that it has not been culpably involved. Jews who had actually signed over properties in Germany and Austria during Nazism found it nearly impossible to be reimbursed after World War II.

Changing legal opinions

The view of international law on population transfer underwent considerable evolution during the 20th century. Prior to World War II, a number of major population transfers were the result of bilateral treaties and had the support of international bodies such as the League of Nations. The tide started to turn when the Charter of the Nuremberg Trials of German Nazi leaders declared forced deportation of civilian populations to be both a war crime and a crime against humanity, and this opinion was progessively adopted and extended through the remainder of the century. Underlying the change was the trend to assign rights to individuals, thereby limiting the rights of states to make agreements which adversely affect them.

There is now little debate about the general legal status of involuntary population transfers: Where population transfers used to be accepted as a means to settle ethnic conflict, today, forced population transfers are considered violations of international law. (Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Spring 2001, p116). No legal distinction is made between one-way and two-transfers, since the rights of each individual are regarded as independent of the experience of others.

An interim report (http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/0/683f547c28ac785880256766004ecdef?OpenDocument) of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (1993) says:

Historical cases reflect a now-foregone belief that population transfer may serve as an option for resolving various types of conflict, within a country or between countries. The agreement of recognized States may provide one criterion for the authorization of the final terms of conflict resolution. However, the cardinal principle of "voluntariness" is seldom satisfied, regardless of the objective of the transfer. For the transfer to comply with human rights standards as developed, prospective transferees must have an option to remain in their homes if they prefer.

The same report warned of the difficulty of ensuring true voluntariness: some historical transfers did not call for forced or compulsory transfers, but included options for the affected populations. Nonetheless, the conditions attending the relevant treaties created strong moral, psychological and economic pressures to move.

The final report (http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.Sub.2.1997.23.En?OpenDocument) of the Sub-Commission (1997) invoked a large number of legal conventions and treaties to support the position that population transfers contravene international law unless they have the consent of both the moved population and the host population; moreover, that consent must be given free of direct or indirect negative pressure.

"Deportation or forcible transfer of population" is defined as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (Article 7). [1] (http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/icc/statute/part-a.htm) The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has put on trial, and in some cases has convicted, a number of politicians and military commanders indicted for forced deportations in that region.

Given the logistics of a forced "transfer," it is widely thought of as a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. In its most idealistic connotation, "transfer" is the mildest form of ethnic cleansing — a peaceful relocation of a compliant people from one area to another. Nationalist agitation and its supportive propaganda are typical political tools by which public support is cultivated in favor of population transfer as a solution to conflict.

Cases of population transfer

United States: Native American relocations

The United States government removed several Native American nations to federally owned and designated reservations. Prominent among these are the 1838-39 Trail of Tears relocation of the Cherokee to Oklahoma, and the establishment of reservations for the Plains Indians that led to the Indian Wars of the late 1800s. Other transfers are discussed in the histories of the five civilized tribes.

Expulsion of Jews and Gypsies

Expulsions of Jews (and of Roma people), have been a tool of state control for centuries. The most famous such event was the expulsion of Muslims & Jews from Spain in 1492. See Jewish refugees, History of anti-Semitism, and [2] (http://www.jewishgates.com/file.asp?File_ID=68) for more details. Also in 1609 and after more than a century of catholic trials, segregation, and religious restrictions, the final transfer of 300,000 Muslims or third the population of Spain at that time out of spain. Most of the Spanish Muslims went to North Africa and to areas of Ottoman Empire control. [3] (http://www.webislam.com/numeros/2000/00_5/Articulos%2000_5/Andalusian_Reflections.htm)


Two famous transfers connected with the history of France are the expulsion of the Muslims in the 13th century, and of the Huguenots who were declared illegal by the Edict of Fontainebleau, 1685. In both cases, the population was not forced out but rather declared illegal.

Other kinds of transfer

A penal colony such as Georgia, Botany Bay or Devil's Island is a case-by-case transfer that may finally add up to a sizable population, but does not come under this heading. The movement of military POWs can be a case of transfer in cases where the numbers are large. (See forced march, Bataan Death March.)

Ancient World

In the ancient world, population transfer was the more humane alternative to putting all the males of a conquered territory to death and enslaving the women and children. The Babylonian captivity of the elite of Jerusalem on three occasions in the 6th century BCE was a population transfer.

Ottomans and Turkey

Armenian "deportations" 1915 - 1919

The connotations of "population transfer" in Turkish are illuminated in an on-line statement from Turkey's Ministry of Culture (see link below):

Relocation, tehcir in Turkish, has not a meaning of banishment. "Tehcir" is Arabic originated word meaning "immigration" or "emigration". However, it was translated in English as "deportation" although "tehcir" has a very different meaning. Unfortunately, "Tehcir Code" has been misused against Turkey by provocateurs that make use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power. In fact "Tehcir Code" applied to transfer the Armenians to the more secure regions of the country in order to restore peace and harmony. In spite of this fact, many writers use the word "deportation" to dramatize the situation. 4 This is a historical mistake and a philological mistake.

Turkey and Greece: population exchange, 1922

Population transfer was used in 1922 to resolve the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). The Greeks suffered a decisive defeat in Asia Minor: the Greek army fled from Asia Minor back into Europe and abandoned the area of Thrace. Greek families that had for lived for generations in Asia Minor and Thrace accompanied the Greek army as refugees. A significant portion of the Turkish population of Greece at the time felt significant level of fear for their peace and security. Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian diplomat working with the League of Nations proposed the idea of population transfer — moving the Turkish inhabitants of Greece to Turkey and absorbing the Greek inhabitants of Turkey into Greece.

The plan met with fierce opposition in both countries and was condemned vigorously by a large number of countries. Undeterred, Nansen worked with both Greece and Turkey to gain their acceptance of the proposed population exchange. Over one million Greeks and half a million Turks were moved from one side of the international border to the other.

Prior to population transfer in 1922, during the interval from 1914 to 1922, Greeks suffered the Pontian Genocide [4] (http://www.hri.org/docs/inter/96-05-17.doc.html) following the model of the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Young Turk government several years earlier. Population transfer prevented further genocide of the Pontian Greeks while Nansen was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace.

As a result of the transfers, the Turkish minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Turkey were much reduced. Cyprus was not included in the Greco-Turkish population transfer of 1922 because it was under direct British control.

Central Europe

After the World War II division of Poland according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Germans deported Poles and Jews from Polish territories annexed by Nazi Germany, while the Soviet Union deported Poles from areas of Eastern Poland, Kresy. Later on Jews were transferred by Nazis to ghettoes and eventually to death camps.

After World War II, when the Curzon line was implemented, members of all ethnic groups were transferred to their respective new territories (Poles to Poland, Ukrainians to Ukraine). The same applied to the Oder-Neisse line, where German citizens were transferred to Germany. Germans were expelled from areas annexed by the Soviet Union as well as territories such as the so-called Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

Soviet Union

Main article: Population transfer in the Soviet Union.

Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. Over 1.5 million people were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. Separatism, resistance to Soviet rule and collaboration with the invading Germans were cited as the main official reasons for the deportations, although an ambition to ethnically cleanse the regions may have also been a factor. After the WWII, the population of East Prussia was replaced by the Soviet one, mainly by Russians.

South Asia

During the Partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1947, more than 5 million Hindus moved from present-day Pakistan into present-day India, and more than 6 million Muslims moved in the other direction. A large number of people (more than a million by some estimates) died in the accompanying violence.

On the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia between 1967 and 1973 the British Government forcibly removed 2000 Ilois islanders to make way for a military base. Despite court judgments in their favour, they have not been allowed to return.

South East Europe

After World War II, when the cession of the Cadrilater by Romania to Bulgaria was confirmed, 88,000 Romanians were compelled to move north of the border, while 65,000 Bulgarians living in southeastern Romania shared an opposite fate.

During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, the breakup of Yugoslavia caused large population transfers, mostly unvoluntary. Because it was a conflict fueled by ethnic nationalism, people of minority ethnicities generally fled towards regions where their ethnicity was in a majority.

The phenomenon of "ethnic cleansing" was first seen in Croatia but soon spread to Bosnia. Since the Bosnian Muslims had no immediate refuge, they were arguably hardest hit by the ethnic violence. United Nations tried to create safe areas for Muslim populations of eastern Bosnia but in cases such as the Srebrenica massacre, the peacekeeping troops failed to protect the safe areas resulting in the massacre of thousands of Muslims.

The Dayton Accords ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, fixating the borders between the two warring parties roughly to the ones established by the autumn of 1995. One immediate result of the population transfer following the peace deal was a sharp decline in ethnic violence in the region.

See Washington Post Balkan Report (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/balkans/overview/bosnia.htm) for a summary of the conflict, and FAS analysis of former Yugoslavia (http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/ops/bosnia.htm) for population ethnic distribution maps.

A massive and systematic deportation of Serbia's Albanians took place during the Kosovo War of 1999, with around 800,000 Albanians (out of a population of about 1.5 million) forced to flee Kosovo. This was quickly reversed at the war's end, but thousands of Serbs were in turn forced to flee into Serbia proper.

A number of commanders and politicians, notably Serbia's former president Slobodan Milosevic, have been put on trial by the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for a variety of war crimes, including deportations and genocide.

Middle East

As the locus of all three of the major Abrahamic religionsJudaism, Christianity, and Islam — which have frequently been mutually antagonistic, the Middle East has suffered periodic population transfers motivated by religious beliefs.

Kuwait expelled 500,000 Palestinian Arabs during the Gulf War because of their support for Saddam Hussein's invasion.


In the year 20 of the Muslim era, corresponding to 641 CE, the Caliph Umar decreed that the Arabs of Jewish and Christian faith should be removed from all but the southern and eastern fringes of Arabia, in accordance with a deathbed command of Muhammad: "Let there not be two religions in Arabia."

During that time, Mizrahi Jews were mainly concentrated in Khaybar, in northern Arabia, and Christian Arabs mostly at Najran, in southern Arabia. The Jewish Arabs were relocated to Syria and Palestine, while the Christian Arabs were relocated to the territories that now comprise modern-day Iraq.

Rather than an immediate uprooting, the transfer of these populations was gradual. For some time after the decree there were reports of some remnant Jewish Arabs still living in their previous places of residence, as well as remnant Christian Arabs also still remaining in theirs.


A large amount of population movement occurred at the time of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and during the following years. The majority of the Arab population of the area of the State of Israel, approximately 720,000 people, fled in 1948-9. After that war, most of the Jews, approximately 900,000 people, fled from a number of Arab countries (as well as Iran), mostly to Israel. The role of governments and official institutions as instigators or in support of these population movements is hotly contested. See Palestinian exodus and also Moledet.

See also

External links

Other sources

  • A. De Zayas, International Law and Mass Population Transfers, Harvard International Law Journal 207 (1975).

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