Forced migration is a type of migration where people are compelled to leave their homes and communities, often due to conflict or persecution.
The term can also be used to describe people who are displaced by natural disasters or other emergencies.
Forced migration can have a devastating impact on individuals and communities, and can lead to serious human rights abuses.
13 Causes of Forced Migration
1. Political Instability
Political instability can include coups, civil wars, persecution, and genocide. It causes governments to stop operating the way they should, and leave a vacuum for violence to take place on the streets.
When a government is no longer able or willing to protect its citizens, many people have no choice but to flee their homes in search of safety.
For example, the Syrian refugee crisis was caused by the Syrian Civil War, which resulted in the displacement of millions of people.
2. Economic Insecurity
Economic insecurity occurs when people are no longer able to participate in a functioning market economy in their home country. They are unable to work or earn enough money to feed themselves and their families.
This often occurs during periods of hyperinflation, the breakdown of global supply chains, or civil war.
When people can no longer provide for their families due to a lack of jobs or resources, they often have no choice but to flee their homes.
For example, in Venezuela, the collapse of the economy has caused widespread poverty and food shortages. Since the start of the Venezuelan crisis in 2014, an estimated 1.5 million people have left Venezuela to escape the country’s political and economic instability. Most of these refugees have fled to Colombia, which now hosts the largest population of Venezuelan refugees in the world. Other significant host countries include Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.
3. Natural Disasters
Natural disasters can include floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires. They often lead to the displacement of large numbers of people, as well as significant damage to infrastructure and homes.
When people are unable to rebuild their lives after a natural disaster, they often have no choice but to flee their homes.
For example, the 2010 Haiti earthquake displaced 1.5 million people, and caused $8.5 billion in damage. The earthquake also led to the spread of cholera, a waterborne illness that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, and has killed more than 10,000 people since it first appeared in Haiti in 2010.
Many Haitian refugees ended up in Brazil where 85,000 Haitians ended up. The United States also accepted 48,000 refugees between 2010 and 2015.
4. Internal Conflict
Conflict and violence can include civil wars, insurgencies, and sectarian violence. They often lead to the displacement of large numbers of people who can no longer live in their homes in safely.
The internal conflict in Syria in 2015 has led to the displacement of more than 6.6 million people out of the country as well as 6.7 internally displaced people. This made it one of the largest refugee crises in the 21st Century.
Word War 2 was the single biggest migratory event in the 20th Century. It caused the displacement of 40 million people over the space of 5 years.
More recently, the war in Iraq has led to the displacement of 3.2 million Iraqis, while the Russian-Ukrainian war forced millions to flee eastward, mainly to Poland.
6. Human Rights Abuses
Human rights violations can include torture, killings, genocide, forced marriages, and the forced recruitment of children into armed conflicts.
When governments or armed gangs commit human rights abuses without consequences, it becomes very difficult to stay in your homeland.
For example, journalists have had to flee their homes in countries such as Syria and Iraq because of the danger of being kidnapped, killed, or otherwise persecuted for speaking the truth about their governments.
Similarly, in Russia in 2022, over 150 journalists fled after a new law was instated banning journalists from reporting the truth about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
People in poverty lack the resources to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. As a result, they are often forced to flee their homes in order to prevent starvation, premature death, and illnesses caused by inability to meet basic needs.
For example, poverty in Ethiopia was rampant in the 1990s, with more than 80% of the population living in poverty. This led to large-scale displacement as people are forced to leave their homes in search of food and work. Most ended up in the United States and Saudi Arabia.
8. Lack of Opportunity
People may flee their homes if they feel that they have no opportunities in their home country. This could be due to a lack of jobs, education, or health care.
For example, people in Venezuela have fled the country in large numbers since 2014 because of the lack of jobs, food, and civil services.
Lack of opportunity is often seen as voluntary migration by host countries, leading them to deny refugee status to those who flee. However, many refugee advocates see lack of opportunity as a legitimate reason to leave a country. The line as to how limited opportunities have to be to constitute a ‘forced migration’ is subjective.
People may flee their homes if they experience discrimination or persecution based on their race, religion, ethnicity, or political views.
For example, the Rohingya people in Myanmar have been persecuted by the government and military for many years based on their ethnicity and religion. This has led to the displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya people in 2018 who were fleeing attempted genocide by the Myanmar military.
The vast majority ended up in Bangladesh refugee camps.
10. Climate Change
While climate change causes short-term environmental disasters, which we have discussed above, it also causes longer-term forced migration issues.
The effects of climate change are already being felt by people around the world.
One example is the displacement of people in coastal areas due to sea level rise and more intense storms. This is particularly a problem in low-lying countries like the Maldives and Kiribati, which are expected to be some of the first countries to disappear underwater due to climate change.
Another example is the displacement of people in Africa due to drought and famine. The Sahel region of Africa has been experiencing a severe drought for the last few years, which has led to the displacement of millions of people.
11. Trafficking and Exploitation
People may be taken from their homes to new countries forcibly in a process called human trafficking. Trafficking is the process of transporting people for the purpose of exploitation, such as forced labor.
For example, women and girls from Central America have been trafficked to the United States against their will. They are often promised jobs in the United States, but are then forced into prostitution or labor once they arrive.
12. Gender-based Violence
People may flee their homes if they are at risk of gender-based violence, either through domestic violence or state-sanctioned gender discrimination.
For example, women and girls in the Central African Republic have been fleeing their homes in droves due to the ongoing conflict and the high levels of violence being perpetrated against them.
Sadly, fleeing also comes with its own risks, with groups exploiting refugee corridors to enact violence against vulnerable women fleeing for safety.
13. Forced Religious Conversion
Some people are forced to flee their homes because they are persecuted for their religious beliefs. This can include being forced to convert to another religion, or being persecuted for practicing a minority religion.
For example, Christian families in Pakistan have had their daughters abducted, married to Islamic men, and forcibly converted to Islam. The local police forces often fail to provide help due to their own extremist views.
Many countries, including Canada and the UK, accept people as refugees who have fled due to forced religious conversion and forced marriages.
12 Real-Life Examples of Forced Migration
1. Palestine (1948 – Present)
Cause: Ethno-Religious War
Since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Palestinians have been forced to migrate several times. The most recent mass migration occurred during the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This event triggered a wave of Palestinian refugees who fled to neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
In addition to being uprooted from their homes, Palestinians have also lost their land and their livelihoods. As a result of these forced migrations, Palestinians have become one of the largest displaced populations in the world.
2. Rwandan Genocide (1994)
Cause: Internal Conflict (Genocide)
In 1994, Rwanda experienced a horrific bout of genocide that led to the forced displacement of millions of people.
The genocide was sparked by the long-standing conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, which came to a head when Hutu extremists began massacring Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The violence quickly spiraled out of control, leading to the deaths of an estimated 800,000 people.
In the face of this brutal massacre, many Tutsis fled their homes in an attempt to escape the violence. However, they were often met with hostility from their neighbors, who were either unwilling or unable to protect them. As a result, many Tutsis were forced to flee Rwanda altogether, becoming refugees in neighboring countries.
3. Syrian Civil War (2011 – Present)
Cause: Internal Conflict (Civil War)
The Syrian civil war began in 2011 as a result of the Arab Spring protests. The conflict quickly escalated, and by 2015, over 12 million people had been displaced, with 6.5 million people fleeing the country altogether.
The majority of refugees are women and children, many of whom have faced violence, death, and destruction.
Syria’s neighbors have borne the brunt of the crisis, with Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan hosting the largest number of refugees.
4. Rohingya Persecution (2012 – Present)
Cause: Religious and Ethnic Persecution
The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority group who have been persecuted in Myanmar (formerly Burma) for decades.
Since 2012, the Rohingya people have been subjected to an ongoing campaign of violence and discrimination at the hands of the Myanmar military. This campaign has led to the displacement of over 700,000 Rohingya people, who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries in search of safety.
The United Nations has described the Rohingya persecution as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
5. Venezuelan Crisis (2015 – Present)
Cause: Economic and Political Crisis
Since 2015, Venezuela has been experiencing a severe political and economic crisis. This crisis has led to widespread food shortages, hyperinflation, and a mass exodus of Venezuelans.
As a result of the crisis, over 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country in search of safety and security. Many have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Colombia, Brazil, and Peru.
6. Hurricane Katrina (2005)
Cause: Natural Disaster
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, causing widespread damage and displacement.
The hurricane led to the flooding of New Orleans, where over 80% of the city was destroyed. In the aftermath of the storm, over 1 million people were displaced, making Katrina one of the largest displacement events in U.S. history.
Ten years on, it’s estimated that 200,000 people were permanently displaced, having chosen to permanently leave New Orleans.
Because the United States is a wealthy nation, the vast majority of refugees fled to other parts of the country in a process called internal displacement.
7. Sri Lanka Civil War (1983 – 2009)
Cause: Internal Conflict (Civil War)
The Sri Lankan civil war was a long and bloody conflict that took place between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group.
The war began in 1983 and lasted for over two decades, resulting in the displacement of millions of people.
In 2009, the Tamil Tigers were finally defeated by the government, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Most Tamils fled to neighboring India, while others sought refuge in other parts of Sri Lanka and as far away as Australia.
8. Uganda Civil War (1972 – 1986)
Cause: Internal Conflict (Civil War)
The Ugandan civil war was a conflict that took place between the government and various rebel groups.
The war began in 1972 and lasted for 14 years, resulting in the displacement of millions of people.
In 1986, the rebels were finally defeated by the government, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Most refugees fled to neighboring countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, while others sought refuge in other parts of Uganda.
9. Transatlantic Slave Trade (1492 – 1807)
Cause: Institutionalized Racism, Slavery
The transatlantic slave trade was a period of intense human trafficking that took place between Africa and the Americas. It was facilitated by the European colonial powers and lasted for over three centuries.
Over the course of three centuries, an estimated 12 million people were abducted and forcibly transported to the New World.
This brutal slave trade led to the displacement of countless families and communities, as well as the deaths of millions of people.
While the transatlantic slave trade was abolished in 1808, slavery in the United States continued until 1865. While that may seem like a long time ago, the last surviving emancipated slave, Sylvester Magee, only died in 1971.
10. Armenian Genocide (1915 – 1916)
Cause: Ethnic Cleansing
The Armenian genocide was a mass killing of Armenians that took place in the Ottoman Empire.
The genocide was carried out by the Ottoman government and resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians.
In addition to the killings, over 500,000 Armenians were forcibly displaced, resulting in one of the largest displacement events in history.
Most Armenians fled to neighboring countries such as Russia and Syria, while others sought refuge in other parts of the Ottoman Empire.
The Armenian genocide is considered to be one of the first genocides of the 20th century.
11. Displacement of Iraqi Religious Minorities (2003 – present)
The displacement of Iraqi Christians is a recent phenomenon that began in 2003 with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been displaced, with many fleeing to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.
Others have fled to Europe and the United States, resulting in one of the largest Christian exoduses in history.
The Yazidis were also heavily targeted by religious extremists, with thousands being killed and millions being displaced. Many Yadizis fled to neighboring countries such as Syria and Turkey, while others sought refuge in other parts of Iraq.
The displacement of Iraqi religious minorities is a direct result of the Iraq War and the rise of Islamic extremism.
12. Russia-Ukraine War (2022)
Cause: Russian Imperialism
The war between Russia and Ukraine began on February 24, 2022 with Russia planning to sweep the country and place it under the Russian sphere of influence.
In the first 30 days of the war, an estimated 3.9 million people fled westward. Many stayed in western Ukraine, mainly in the city of Lviv, while others crossed over to Hungary, Romania, and Poland.
At the time, men were not allowed to leave the country in case they were needed for the war effort, so many women and children made the journey alone. Sadly, many of them never saw their fathers and husbands again.
10 Effects of Forced Migration
1. Loss of Life
When people are forced to flee their homes, they often do so in a hurry and have to pass through very dangerous roads to get to their destinations. For example, in Russia, many people fleeing were hit by shelling by the Russian forces, leading to significant civilian deaths.
2. Violence on the Journey
Those who are forcibly displaced are often exposed to violence and human rights abuses on their journeys. This is particularly a problem in Mexico, where Central American refugees are often targeted by gangs and smugglers.
3. Separation of Families
One of the most heartbreaking consequences of forced migration is the separation of families. Often, men are forced to migrate around the world to work and send money home to their families. They see this as their only option to ensure their family is safe and alive.
4. Injuries and Illnesses
On forced displacement journeys, people are often exposed to difficult and dangerous conditions, such as extreme weather conditions, lack of food and water, and exposure to diseases. This often leads to people becoming sick or injured.
5. Trauma and Psychological Distress
Many refugees experience significant psychological distress, often as a result of the traumatic experiences they have endured. This can include symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts.
6. Damage to Property
Often, when people are forced to flee their homes, they are not able to take anything with them. This often leads to the loss of property and possessions. When it is safe for them to return, they often find that their homes have been damaged by natural disasters or looted by locals.
7. Economic Hardship
Refugees often find it difficult to find employment and access basic services such as healthcare and education. Furthermore, their qualifications are often not recognized by their new countries. This means they have to start from the bottom again, despite the fact many of them are highly educated and could provide excellent services to their communities.
8. Discrimination and Xenophobia
Refugees can often face significant discrimination and xenophobia in their new countries. This can include being denied access to services, being verbally or physically assaulted, and being detained without reason.
As a result, refugees tend to have lower entry-level wages than other immigrants, whose wages are similarly lower than that of locals born in the country.
9. Social Isolation and Difficulty Adapting
Refugees can often feel socially isolated and disconnected from their communities, particularly if they are unable to speak the language of the new country they are living in. We often call this ‘culture shock‘. However, at a deeper level, this is a result of low cultural and social capital in the immigrant’s new home.
10. Cultural Erosion
When refugees are forced to flee their homes, they often feel like they have lost their cultural identity. This can be due to the fact that they are not able to connect with like-minded people in their new homeland, lack social capital with the locals, and do not know how to navigate or understand the norms and taboos of their new culture.
Discussion and Related Concepts
Forced migration is the result of push factors, meaning there are factors that are pushing people out of their homeland. Push factors are the conditions in a country that cause people to leave such as poverty, violence, or political instability.
This is in contrast to pull factors which entice people to choose to migrate. Pull factors are the conditions in the new country, such as jobs, social support, or freedom from persecution.
Forced migrants are generally seen to be refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution or fear of persecution.
Forced migration is one of the most common types of migration, alongside voluntary migration. It’s a side-effect of both human induced and environmental emergencies that make living in a home location impossible, making people uproot their lives and head elsewhere.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]