Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World

By Aristide R. Zolberg; Astri Suhrke et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Reorganization of Political Communities in South Asia

Asia's Refugees: An Overview

Shortly after World War II ended, two huge streams of refugees appeared in the south and the east of the Asian land mass. Neither was immediately related to the ravages of a world war, although the war had hastened the social and political tensions that were at their roots. In the Indian subcontinent, decolonization through partition in 1947 compelled some fourteen million people to move, either seeking immediate safety or hoping to realize a better future in the new Pakistan or the dismembered India. In China, just two years later in 1949, the civil war was drawing to an end, setting off a large population movement from the mainland to the nearby islands. In the first wave, about 1.5 million soldiers, government officials, and civilians associated with the defeated Kuomintang withdrew to the island of Taiwan. Here they demanded recognition not as refugees but as the government of China. Large numbers also sought asylum in Hong Kong, totaling about 1 million over the following decade.

The very large numbers of Indian and Chinese refugees partly reflect the fact that the flows originated in the two most populous countries of the world. After all, the fourteen million who moved with the partition of India represented only 3 percent of the entire population affected. Later refugee movements in Asia have also rapidly mounted into the millions. The current significance of the two early migrations is not that they were particularly large or uniquely brutal but that they appear as classic types: refugees from partition and refugees from revolution. They were the first in a series of similar movements that are associated with the independence and postindependence struggles in Asia and on which they exerted some influence. As such, the mid-century refugees on the Indian subcontinent and the Chinese mainland indicated the two main patterns of later flows in the region, just as the classic refugee flows did in Europe, which were associated with the French Revolution and the breakup of empires in Central Europe.

In the plural states of South Asia, the structure of conflict in the postindependence period was to a large extent shaped by the demands for rights, power, and protection advanced by groups defined along lines of religion, language, or culture. 1 The very large refugee movements in the region--and some that spilled into other regions as well--

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