Involuntary mass resettlement

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Internal displacement
Forced relocation
Relocation of population
Deportation of villages
Forced migration
Involuntary movement of people
Deportation under duress
Mass exodus
Mass exoduses of people
Forced mass expulsion
Enforced emigration
De facto refugees
Compulsory population transfer

Mass expulsions are generally the result of a disordered state of affairs due to political, social and economic factors. In the case of nationals, mass expulsions are frequently the result of troubled conditions arising from such factors as economic and social inequalities, the violation of basic human rights, terrorism, foreign intervention in internal affairs and acts of aggression. Problems of development constitute additional factors. In the cases of aliens, economic and social conditions are also determining factors. Mass expulsion of resident aliens generally occurs in situations where there is no integration of minorities op of migrant worker populations. In situations where there is no policy or intention on either part of integration, such expulsions can become a distinct danger when economic or political conditions deteriorate in the receiving country. The position of foreign students is also precarious.

Since the end of the Cold War, increasing numbers of people have been forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, and systematic violations of human rights. Whereas refugees crossing national borders benefit from an established system of international protection and assistance, those who are displaced internally suffer from an absence of legal or institutional bases for their protection and assistance from the international community.

Climate change is likely to entail serious implications for many countries through its impacts on food and water supplies and rises in sea levels. Climate change may therefore exacerbate current problems in regions and indirectly lead to population displacement.


Forced resettlements affect indigenous peoples everywhere, as in the case of native Americans in the USA, blacks in South Africa, Palestinians in Israel and aborigines in Australia. In Ethiopia at least 1.5 million people were being moved from arid north under a resettlement programme claimed to be voluntary by the government. Observers estimate that some 100,000 lives have been lost in the process. In Iraq approximately 300,000 kurdis have been forcibly deported and their homes destroyed.

Major development projects, such as the large dams funded by the World Bank, have resulted in the involuntary resettlement of large numbers of people. Ghana's Volta Dam saw the evacuation of some 78,000 people from over 700 towns and villages. The huge Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation projects on the Narmada River in India will displace more than 240,000 people when completed around the middle of the 1990's. The Bank estimates that projects underway in 1993 will displace 756,000 people in East Asia, 837,585 in South Asia, 239,875 in Latin America and 120,000 in Africa. A further 600,000 will be moved in 1994. 1993 reports to the Bank's executive indicated that as a result their condition has been worsened, typically with a further reduction of income. For example, in India where 800,000 people have been evicted the overall record is poor to the extent of being unacceptable. People left homeless in this way are often forced into virgin forestlands where they destroy natural resources. In such cases it is the landless labourers, tenants, squatters and cultivators with only customary tenure rights that suffer the most. Most are excluded from compensation by their governments and are displaced without any adequate knowledge of what will happen to them. In 1994 a confidential World Bank report indicated that more than 30 million Chinese had been evicted from their homes in the previous four decades, being forced to move in favour of road, railway and reservoir projects; in one case 150,000 people moved 30 years previously were still living in temporary shelters. In the case of the Three Gorges Dam, based on a feasibility study of the World Bank in 1988, over 1 million people were scheduled to be displaced. The report indicated that some 32 projects funded by the Bank would require the resettlement of 473,000 people.

Forced resettlement also occurs on the occasion of war as in the case of the 3.25 million Sudeten Germans who settled (or fled) following the World War II, with the agreement of the Allies. Fatalities associated with mass deportation and forced resettlement put the number of victims in the former USSR at between 7 and 10 million, and in China at about 27 million.

Governments may move communities and tribal groups against their wishes to exploit their land or to break their resistance to assimilation or political domination. Such programmes are usually carried out with little regard for the social impact on family groups or communities, for the health of those concerned or for their means of livelihood at their destination. Villagers may be tempted to accede to such relocation without adequate information having been communicated to them to make an adequate decision. In the course of forced agricultural resettlement programmes, such as the Indonesian 'trans-migration' settlement of one million in Irian Jaya and West Papua, gender inequalities are frequently intensified and cultures disrupted. New land titles and jobs are handed out to the male head of household, leaving women without access to an independent source of income, or land on which to grow food or crops.

There was a large resettlement of Slovak Gypsies in the Czech part of the former federal republic. This happened after World War II in order to fill the void left by deported Germans. Most Roma living in the Czech lands now are descendants of these immigrants. Czech Republic was reluctant to award these people with Czech citizenship when Czechoslovakia split in 1993.

The single largest mass migration in human history, with an estimated 16.7 million people displaced, followed the 1947 Partition of British India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the first Pakistani head of state, and his Muslim League had promoted the creation of a separate country to give the subcontinent’s minority Muslim population their own homeland. With the British in favor of the Partition, millions of Indian Muslims travelled to the newly created country of Pakistan and millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed to India.  When the migrations began, religiously charged rhetoric exploded into violence. In the ensuing riots, countless women were raped, and up to two million people were killed. This traumatic legacy has contributed to an uneasy rivalry between the two countries ever since.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
17.10.2021 – 06:03 CEST