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Resettlement of people from one part of a country to another is a specific form of internal migration and is of particular significance in less developed countries. It is usually associated with programs of agricultural settlement carried out under government auspices. There are two main forms of resettlement. The first is a largely voluntary movement, seen as a solution to "overpopulation" in the areas of origin and as a means to increase production in "underused" land in the destination areas. The second form, more forced than voluntary in nature, is settlement of people who have been displaced by environmental events, development projects, or conflict.

The extension of agricultural settlement as older-settled areas fill up has occurred throughout human history, albeit usually on a more-or-less spontaneous basis. In the twentieth century governments often took a hand in the process, opening new areas for closer agricultural settlement and selecting settlers–mainly persons with agricultural backgrounds. While there have been examples of such schemes in developed countries–for example, Donald Rowland (1979) has discussed the returned soldier settlement schemes in Australia following World Wars I and II–the largest resettlement schemes have been initiated by colonial and independent governments in developing countries. Indonesia, Brazil, and China are notable cases in point. Large variations in population density between different parts of the nation are often a reflection of ecological realities (in Indonesia, for example, some 60 percent of the population is in Java, which accounts for only about 6 percent of the country's land area). Nevertheless, comparatively "empty" areas, such as in Indonesia's other major islands, often have some potential for closer settlement.

Land settlement schemes were prominent in the first four decades following World War II in many developing countries. By the mid-1980s, such projects were no longer favored. In a representative comment, Andrei Oberai concluded:

Despite the substantial amounts that have been invested in planned settlement schemes … their performance has not been very encouraging…. If not complete failures, they have, in almost all parts of the world, given settlement officials and policy makers serious cause for concern. They are costly in relation to the number of persons settled, and frequently suffer from low productivity and high rates of desertion. In some cases they also appear to have created social tensions in the areas concerned (Oberai 1986, pp. 141–142).

As a result of such assessments as well as the decreasing availability of suitable land, the number and scale of settlement programs declined and by the beginning of the twenty-first century few countries had them.

Although they vary by country, land settlement schemes have typically involved governments in selecting potential settlers, assisting and organizing their move to the settlement area, clearing and preparing the land for agriculture, and providing the settlers with housing and other services and economic assistance until their agricultural holdings become established.

The goals of government-sponsored settlement schemes have differed. In Indonesia, the Philippines, and Peru "evening out" the national population distribution has been an important aim. In Brazil, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka the main objective has been regional development. Some schemes have explicit (or implicit) political motives. The "colonization" of Tibet by Han Chinese is one example. Some have suggested that Indonesia's transmigration scheme has sought to establish the dominance of Javanese in the outer islands of Indonesia.

In 1985 Thayer Scudder put forward a four-stage model of the land settlement process: (1) planning and design of the scheme, initial infrastructure development, and the recruitment of settlers; (2) the actual transfer of settlers and their initial establishment in the new environment; (3) economic growth and social progress in the settlement area; and (4) incorporation of the settlement scheme into the existing local and regional structure. There is an additional, fifth stage, however: what may be referred to as the "second generation problem." Once the initial settlers have become established and their children begin to enter the working ages, this second generation puts great pressure on local labor markets, which often cannot absorb the increasing numbers of workers. In some schemes, there is evidence of settlers having higher fertility than their counterparts in origin areas, which exacerbates the problem.

Indonesia's Transmigration Program

Probably the largest single government-organized land settlement scheme has been the transmigration program in Indonesia, which resettled families from Java and Bali in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and West New Guinea (Papua). As shown in Table 1, the numbers over the twentieth century amounted to about 1.5 million families–or around 8 million people. The Dutch colonial government began the program in 1905, and after independence successive regimes continued carrying it out until it was officially terminated in 2000. As with other settlement


schemes, it also created a parallel flow of spontaneous migrants into the settlement areas or to nearby land, both from Java and Bali and from other parts of Indonesia.

Problems of Resettlement Schemes

Land settlement programs have encountered a range of problems. These have included belated discovery that the settlement land could not support intensive agriculture; insufficient preparation of settlers for farming in a different environment; insufficient early support for settlers and consequent "desertion" of settlers from schemes; social tensions between settlers and the original inhabitants of the settlement areas, often arising from inadequate recognition of the latter's title for the land or from inadequate compensation; and ecological problems created by poor or unsustainable agricultural practices.

The costs of resettlement per family are high in relation to alternative strategies to fight poverty, increase agricultural production, or influence population numbers and distribution. The World Bank, which became involved in supporting some land settlement programs as a development strategy in the 1970s and 1980s, subsequently withdrew most of its support, partly on these grounds.

Forced Internal Resettlement

Forced migrations across national borders have attracted a great deal of research attention, but analogous movements within countries have been substantially greater in size and have been much less studied. The main causes of such forced resettlement are large-scale infrastructure projects, environmental disasters, and political, ethnic, or religious conflict. The bulk of these resettlements occur within less developed countries. In a 2000 report, Michael Cernea and Christopher McDowell maintained that "the most widespread effect of involuntary displacement is the impoverishment of a considerable number of people" (Cernea and McDowell, p. 12).

Dam construction is a major reason for population displacement. It is estimated that around 12 million Chinese were displaced by reservoir and dam construction in the half century following establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The Three Gorges Project, damming the Yangtze River in central China, involves the inundation of almost 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of farmland and the resettlement of at least 1.2 million people; it is due to be completed in 2009.

Environmental disasters such as volcanic eruptions, floods, cyclones, tsunami, and droughts can cause massive displacement on both a temporary and permanent basis. South Asia and Africa are the regions most affected. Those displaced are often described as environmental refugees. A 1980s estimate found that in India alone four million persons on average were needing to migrate elsewhere to seek food and shelter each year. The Sahelian drought of the late 1980s saw the displacement of several million people in a number of African countries, including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.

Internally Displaced Persons

Persons fleeing persecution or threat of violence but who remain within their country (and thus cannot formally be recognized as refugees under the mandate of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR]) comprise another large category of displaced persons. Beginning in the late twentieth century, the UNHCR has identified internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a "group of concern." Although they are outside of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, the UNHCR defined IDPs as:

persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border (U.S. General Accounting Office, p. 5).

Figure 1 shows the UNHCR estimates of trends in numbers of IDPs (and the numbers of refugees for comparison). Figure 1 shows that the numbers of IDPs recognized by the UNHCR expanded greatly in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the number of nations with IDPs increasing from 14 in 1985 to 34 in 1996. The increases in numbers were predominantly in Africa (Burundi, Somalia), Europe and the former USSR (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus, Russian Federation, Croatia, Armenia) and Asia (Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia). The figure of around eight million IDPs globally at the beginning of 2001 underestimates the actual number. For example, it omits 1.3 million IDPs officially identified in Indonesia. Indeed, in 2001 the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that there were over 20 million IDPs worldwide.

IDPs are often less able to obtain assistance than refugees, because they do not qualify for UNHCR protection and support. They usually are forced to move under conditions of great duress and are often unable to take their possessions with them. The camps they are initially housed in are often over-crowded and suffer from major health and social problems.

Governments seek to return IDPs to their home area if that is possible, but often they are resettled in other parts of the country. In Indonesia, for example, the same government agency that was responsible for transmigration has responsibility for resettling IDPs who are unable to return to their home area. Forced movements within less developed nations appear to be increasing in scale although those officially recognized by the UNHCR show a downturn in the late 1990s.


See also: Ethnic Cleansing; Forced Migration; Internal Migration; Refugees, Demography of.


Cernea, Michael M., and Christopher McDowell. 2000. Risks and Reconstruction: Experiences of Resettlers and Refugees. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

Heming, Li, and Phillip Rees. 2000. "Population Displacement in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area of the Yangtze River, Central China: Relocation Policies and Migrant Views." International Journal of Population Geography 6: 439–462.

Hessler, Peter. 1999. "Tibet through Chinese Eyes." Atlantic Monthly 283(2): 56–66.

Hugo, Graeme. 1996. "Environmental Concerns and International Migration." International Migration Review 30(1): 105–131.

Jacobson, Jodi L. 1988. Environmental Refugees: A Yardstick of Habitability. Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute.

Oberai, Andrei S. 1986. "Land Settlement Policies and Population Redistribution in Developing Countries: Performance, Problems, and Prospects." International Labour Review 125 (2):141–161.

United Nations. 1981. Population Distribution Policies in Development Planning. New York: United Nations.

Graeme Hugo