Gaza: Forced displacement

Mass migration has marked history from 15th century Spain to India-Pakistan 1947

Rashmee Roshan Lall
3 min readOct 18, 2023

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The Big Story:

Israel’s fight against the Palestinian group Hamas has the world holding its breath, waiting to see what happens next in the Middle East. The majority of northern Gaza’s one million Palestinians have reportedly been forced to leave their bombed and besieged homes for a desperately uncertain future.

The Backstory:

Forced mass migrations have been a tragic and painful reality of human history. Conflicted historical events often give rise to contested interpretations and some atrocities that resulted in forced migrations are accorded more attention than others. The crimes of Hitler’s Third Reich prompted American historian Arno J. Mayer to ask “Why did the heavens not darken?” but experts say, the question cannot — and should not — be confined to that moment in time.

Some examples of large-scale forced movements of peoples:

  • Over nearly 200 years starting in the 15th century, Catholic Spain expelled 160,000 Jews and 300,000 Muslims.
  • An estimated 20 million slaves were forced to migrate by European slave traders operating in Africa from the 16th to the 19th century, with further numbers dying en route.
  • Nazi Germany deported roughly seven to eight million people during World War II (1939–45).
  • The Soviet Union expelled some 10 million ethnic Germans from eastern Europe in the closing year of that war and afterwards.
  • Roughly 14 million people fled in one direction or another during the partition of British India into the newly independent nation states of India and Pakistan in the late 1940s.
  • More recently, armed conflict has resulted in several massive forced migrations. Nearly four million people left Afghanistan after the 2021 Taliban reconquest and three million left in the 1980s. Five million poured out of Syria in the 2010s.

This Week, Those Books:

  • A historian details the long-term effects of forced migration between India and Pakistan.
  • A novelist portrays the narrowing life options for a prosperous Muslim family in 15th century Spain.
  • An account of how and why Jews were expelled from mediaeval Spain.
  • Originally published at



Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Writer. My novel 'Pomegranate Peace' is about my year in Afghanistan. I teach journalism at university in London