Population transfer is the movement of a large group of people from one region to another by state policy or international authority, most frequently on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Often the affected population is transferred by force to a distant region, perhaps not suited to their way of life, causing them substantial personal and bodily harm and resulting in significant damage and loss of property.
Population exchange is the transfer of two populations in opposite directions at about the same time. These exchanges have taken place several times in the 20th century, such as during the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan .
1947 Partition of India
Figure showing the movement of refugees following the decision by colonial Britain to partition India based on religious demographics.
Issues Arising from Population Transfer
According to political scientist Norman Finkelstein, population transfer was considered as an acceptable solution to the problems of ethnic conflict up until around World War II and even a little afterward in certain cases. It was considered a drastic but "often necessary" means to end an ethnic conflict or ethnic civil war. The feasibility of population transfers was hugely increased by the creation of railroad networks in the mid-19th century.
Population transfer differs from individually motivated migration in more than just a technical sense, though at times of war the act of fleeing from danger or famine often blurs the differences.
Changing Status in International Law
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 with 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 that forced deportation of civilian populations was both a war crime and a crime against humanity.This opinion was progressively adopted and extended through the remainder of the century. Underlying the change was the trend to assign rights to individuals, 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, as forced population transfers are now considered violations of international law. 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.
Adopted in 1949 and now part of customary international law, Article 49 of Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits mass movement of people out of or into of occupied territory under what it calls "belligerent military occupation":
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 Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.