In addition to the natural factors of birth and deaths that are responsible for population change, Asian populations have been affected, if only to a small extent, by population movements as well. The numerical changes have been so striking for Asia as a whole, but for some areas like the Persian Gulf countries, the consequences of such movements have been far reaching.
The resettlement and refugee movements, and labor migrations. In comparison to the European massive intercontinental migrations of persons seeking greater opportunity in the United States between the mid-fifties of the 19th century and the mid 20th century, the Asian movements consisted of largely refugee movements during periods of warfare, civil war, and political turmoil.
Labor movements from one country to another have been of much smaller scope. These, however, did alter the human landscapes and introduced significant social, economic and political changes even if these did not substantially alter the demographic structures of Asian societies.
Accompanying the relinquishing of British control over the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Asia experienced one of the largest of human migrations in history. It is estimated that 15-16 million persons were forced to flee across the newly-created boundary between India and Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands also perished from the tragic communal riots resulting from the partitioning of the subcontinent.
In the aftermath of Vietnam War during the 1960’s, and the conflicts in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in the 1970’s, the region faced large flows of refugees from these nations after they had come under communist rule. The greatest number escaped into Thailand overland, but thousands (became known as “boat people”) got out of Vietnam by sea in small boats. Those who survived the hazardous journeys found temporary asylum in Hong Kong. Thousands also asked to be repatriated to the West or other countries. Hong Kong, already exploding with population, denied them permanent refuge.
In Cambodia, where Khmer forces killed 2-3 million of people, thousands fled to the neighboring Thailand. Several thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees, however, moved to the U.S., China and the West; by 1990 nearly a million had been resettled in the United States, France, and others in the neighboring Asian nations. Within the communist societies of China and the Soviet Union, prior to the latter’s collapse in 1990 resettlement of the Russians into the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan and the Chinese into Xizang (Tibet) and Xinjiang had been going on for several decades.
After 1950 the Chinese consolidated their control over Xizang (formerly Tibet). A large scale resettlement of the Chinese in Xinzang. Massive devastation of monasteries and Tibetan culture followed. This brought enormous economic and cultural changes to the landscape.
Another area greatly affected by refugee movements was Afghanistan. After its occupation by the Soviet forces in 1979 the country became the largest source of refugees in Asia. Some 3 million Afghan refugees moved to Pakistan, and another 2 million to Iran. Since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 nearly one million refugees half of these from Pakistan—have been -repatriated to Afghanistan.
Notable among the other refugee movements across the borders of Asian countries were —those of the Chinese into Taiwan, Mongolia and North Korea. All these population shifts may be ascribed to the so-called ‘rush’ factors, i.e., people pushed out of native lands for reasons beyond their control. However, these movements represent the sum of many of the sad human dramas: collectively they have served to shape the political and cultural map of Asia.
As a final observation, it may be noted that, for the most part, refugees in Asia, are the by-product of regional conflicts which were fought either with direct superpower involvement as in Vietnam or Afghanistan, or waged by superpower proxies. By early 1990’s the superpower involvement had virtually disappeared and the refugee problems within Asia had eased considerably.
Another type of movement is that of labor migration, and may be solely induced by the “pull” factor. Examples of this category consist of relatively smaller numbers, and confined largely to the oil- rich nations in the Persian Gulf area. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the Arab nations of Baharain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates became the targets of rapid flows of immigrants from the lesser developed countries of South and Southeast Asia.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait became particularly attractive destinations for labor seeking employment from Indians, Pakistanis, Sir Lankans, and the Filipinos. Today, the foreign workers account for substantial numbers within the populations of the Persian Gulf nations. In 1992, approximately 10 percent of Kuwait’s, one-third of Qatar’s, a quarter of Baharain’s and one- tenth of Saudi Arabia’s population consisted of immigrant workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. In 1950 the proportion of foreign workers in the populations of these countries was less than 5 percent.
While the labor migrations to the Persian Gulf countries have been comparatively recent, it may be remembered that population movements from “depressed” and “overcrowded” regions of China and India had been going on for quite some time, particularly since 1850.
There are nearly 15 million “overseas” Chinese now, 12 million of which make up for the Southeast Asia’s populations. Historically, the southeast-coast of China has been the feeding ground of the Chinese emigre’s. Persons of Chinese descent now account for nearly 10 percent of Malaysia’s, 9 percent of Indonesia’s, 12 percent of Thailand’s and 75 percent of Singapore’s populations. In Myanmar and the Philippines they form substantial minorities. Relatively unassimilated in the native populations, these overseas Chinese have, with the exception of those in Thailand, remained an alien element.