Population transfer is the permanent movement of a large group of people, often defined by their ethnicity or religion, from one region to another. Sometimes two groups are transfered in opposite directions at about the same time, in which case the process is often called population exchange. While such movements have occasionally taken place as part of agreements between nations, they are more often the outcome of intercommunal violence or civil wars. The term ethnic cleansing has often been used to refer to mass population movements forced during wartime by state policy, which are formally deemed war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Table of contents
1 Greece
2 Central Europe
3 South Asia
4 South East Europe
5 Middle East
6 Changing Legal Opinions
7 External links
8 Other sources


Population transfer was used in 1922 to resolve the Greco-Turkish War. The Greeks suffer 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. Fridtjen 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 vigously 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 to Pontian Genocide [1] 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.

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

Population transfers in Central Europe started with Soviet policies of the deportation of the whole nations. Poles (1934), Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians (1940-1941), Germans (1941), Chechens (1943), Crimean Tatars 1945. Germans implemented the policy, by deporting Poles and Jews from Polish territories annexed by Nazi Germany. Later on Jews were transfered to ghettoes and eventually to death camps. After World War II, when Curzon line was implemented, all respective nations were transfered to their own countries (Poles to Poland, Ukrainiains to Ukraine) The same applied to Oder-Neisse line, where German citizens were transfered to Germany. Germans were expelled from areas annexed by the Soviet Union as well as territories such as the Sudetenland and Hungary.

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 (than a million by some estimates) died in the accompanying violence.

South East Europe

In the 1990's, The United Nations took steps that forseeably led to the transfer of populations within the boundaries of Yugoslavia. Safe areas were established for Muslim populations of Serbia and other successor states. Unfortunately, the United Nations peacekeeping troops failed to protect the safe areas resulting the in the massacre of number of Muslims. [1] The Dayton Accords designed to create a federation covering the territory of Yugoslavia failed, resulted instead in the establishment of separate states. (see [1] for summary, in particular the final paragraph.) (population ethnic distribution maps [1]) One immediate result of this population transfer is the sharp decline in ethnic violence in the region.

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 fled in 1948-9. After that war, most of the Jews in several Arab countries fled, mostly to Israel. The role of govenments and official institutions as instigators or in support of these population movements is hotly contested.

Middle East

In the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, some form population transfer has been advocated by all sides of the conflict. The proposals cover the gamut: the deporation of all Jews from Israel to Europe; the expulsion of all Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the deportation of all Arabs from Israel and the expulsion of all Arabs west of the Jordan River.


Leading Palestinians have repeated advocated the expulsion or extermination of all Jews in Israel, both before and after the founding of the state of Israel. This theme in Arab thinking continued after the creation of the state of Israel, with calls of various degrees of extremity for the expulsion of Israelis appearing regularly.

Hamas policy, as documented in their [1988 covenant] is the obliteration of the state of Israel. Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin continues to call for the expulsion of all Jews from Israel to Europe [1].

In a 1988 document, Palestine National Council calls for "the removal of settlements established by Israel in the Palestinian and Arab territories since 1967" including the ancient Jewish community of Hebron and the communities of Gush Etzion which were established before 1948. [1]

On June 30th, 2001, Yasser Arafat addressing the Conference of the Council of the Socialist International said "Peace cannot be achieved except after the cessation of military escalation and the economic and financial siege, the demise of occupation, the removal of settlements and ..." [1]


The idea of transferring Arabs out of the area of a Jewish state has a very long history. Many of the important historical Zionists, including Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, supported some version of transfer at some stages of their careers while espousing more moderate policy at other stages.

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 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 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).

Nonetheless, the United Nations took steps, that while not intended to consitute population transfer, given the weakness of UN forces in the area, the steps forseeably lead to the transfer of populations with the boundaries of Yugoslavia during the 1990's. See South East Europe above.

See also: ethnic cleansing deportation.

External links

Other sources

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