Forced displacement or forced immigration is the coerced movement of a person or persons away from their home or home region and it often connotes violent coercion. Someone who has experienced forced displacement is a "forced immigrant", a "displaced person" (DP), rarely also a "displacee", or if it is within the same country, an internally displaced person (IDP). In some cases the forced immigrant can also become a refugee, as that term has a specific legal definition. A specific form of forced displacement 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 displacement 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 immigration, especially in parts of Africa, the Middle East, south and central Asia, ripple out well beyond the immediate region.
|Displaced persons in 2017|
|Regions with significant populations
|People in refugee-like situation
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".
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."
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." However this thought has been questioned, especially by Marxians, who argue that in most cases migrants have little or no choice.
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.
- 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. 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:
- Migrants who are able to return to their original habitat once the disruption is over, as in the case of the Bhopal disaster.
- Migrants who remain permanently displaced.
- Migrants who seek better living conditions due to deterioration of environmental conditions in their present habitat, such as soil fertility. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 often place their lives at risk, are obliged to travel in inhumane conditions and may be exposed to exploitation and abuse. And on top of that the states where they seek protection may regard them as a threat to their security.
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. 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.
- The term displaced person (DP) was first widely used during World War II and the resulting refugee outflows from Eastern Europe, when it was used to specifically refer to one removed from his or her 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. 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. 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 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 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 his or her 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. 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 his or her 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.
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 other persons (police) who do not participate directly in a conflict. 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". At the Nuremberg trials, Hans Frank, chief jurist in occupied Poland, was found guilty, among others for forced displacement of the civilian population.
In Article 49, the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted on 12 August 1949, specifically forbids forced displacement:
Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines forced displacement as a crime within the jurisdiction of the court:
"Deportation or forcible transfer of population" means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law.
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 Šešelj 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.  Other convictions for forced displacement included ex-Bosnian Serb politician Momčilo Krajišnik, ex-Croatian Serb leader Milan Martić,  former Bosnian Croat paramilitary commander Mladen Naletilić, and Bosnian Serb politician Radoslav Brđanin.
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- 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.
- International Network on Displacement and Resettlement
- Pictures of Refugees in Europe - Features by Jean-Michel Clajot, Belgian photographer
- Forced Migration Online provides access to a diverse range of relevant information resources on forced migration, including a searchable digital library consisting of full-text documents.
- Forced Migration Review World's most widely read publication on refugee and internal displacement issues
- Back issues of migration journals (Disasters, Forced Migration Review, International Journal of Refugee Law, International Migration Review and Journal of Refugee Studies)
- Eurasylum Many relevant documents on asylum and refugee policy, immigration and human trafficking/smuggling internationally
- IDP Voices Forced migrants tell their life stories
- Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Norwegian Refugee Council The leading international body monitoring conflict-induced internal displacement worldwide.
- The International Association for the Study of Forced Migration brings together academics, practitioners and decision-makers working on forced migration issues.
- The International Organization for Migration is a non-governmental organization with a major role mediating modern migration.
- The Journal of Refugee Studies from Oxford University provides a forum for exploration of the complex problems of forced migration and national, regional and international responses.
- Program for the Study of Global Migration, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.
- The Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford: a leading multidisciplinary centre for research and teaching on the causes and consequences of forced migration.
- What is Forced Migration?, an introductory guide for those who are new to the subject.
- Wits Forced Migration Studies Programme, Africa's leading centre for teaching and research on displacement, migration, and social transformation.
- Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
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