Project purpose and those involved

About us

This project explores the mass displacements of the late 1940s in South Asia and Palestine. These were two of the most significant displacements in modern history. The 1947 Partition of India created the biggest migration in recorded history, as up to 15 million people fled across new borders. The following year, the establishment of the state of Israel on 78% of Palestine caused the longest-lasting refugee crisis in modern history, with more than three-quarters of the Palestinian population expelled. 

The two crises had some striking parallels. Both occurred in the context of hurried British withdrawal, and both were shaped by colonial structures, rising variant nationalisms, and the imposition of new borders. Crucially, both mass migrations posed a challenge to the emerging post-war system of global governance, dominated by Western powers. As such, these histories can inform us not only about these regions, but also about the emergence of post-WW2 internationalism and the refugee regimes that were established at this time. 

Why Partition Displacements?

Partition was planned for both India and Palestine in the late 1940s, but in the end it was only completed in the former. We use the term here to refer to this specific historical moment whereby new borders were planned and then imposed by a combination of military aggression and political and diplomatic power. Although the two cases took different trajectories in terms of Partition, parallels have remained, most notably in the settler colonial trajectories undertaken by India in Kashmir and Israel in Palestine in the ostensibly post-colonial period. With this in mind, it is especially revealing to consider these histories in tandem.

You will find on this website a range of resources on the two displacements, with a focus on legislation, case law, and policy concerning two displacements. The resources are drawn from archives across the world that record relevant local, national, regional and international developments.

This project was made possible by a generous grant from the British Academy.

Our Team

Anne Irfan

Principal Investigator

Anne Irfan is a historian and Principal Investigator (PI) on Borders, global governance and the refugee, 1947-51, sponsored by the BA. She is Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Race, Gender and Postcolonial Studies at University College London (UCL), having previously worked as a Lecturer in Forced Migration at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre. She has a PhD in International History from the London School of Economics, and her research interests include Palestinian refugee history, displacement in the modern Middle East, internationalism and the global refugee regime. She is author of the book Refuge and Resistance: Palestinians and the International Refugee System

Dr Anne Irfan
Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Race, Gender and Postcolonial Studies
University College London

Uttara Shahani

Postgraduate Research Assistant

Uttara Shahani is a historian and departmental lecturer at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. She was postdoctoral researcher on the British Academy funded Borders, Global Governance, and the Refugee (1947-1951) project. She was previously ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge. She has a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge and has research interests in colonial India, Sindh, the partition of India, and refugee regimes.

Dr Uttara Shahani
Departmental Lecturer in Forced Migration
Refugee Studies Centre
Department of International Development
University of Oxford

Shahar Shoham

Research Consultant

Shahar Shoham is a doctoral candidate in  Global and Area Studies at the Institute for Asian and African Studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin, and am alumna of the German academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and Hans-Bockler-Stiftung in Germany. Her ethnographic research focuses on a sending community perspective over the Thailand-Israel labour migration regime and the experiences of Thai migrant farmworkers in Israel. She was a Visiting Researcher at TraffLab (ERC): Labor Perspective to Human Trafficking at the Law Faculty at Tel Aviv University.

PhD Candidate,
Area and Global Studies
The Institute for Asian and African Studies
Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany

Visiting Research Fellow,
TraffLab | Labor Perspective to Human Trafficking (ERC)
Faculty of Law, Tel-Aviv University, Israel

Salman Ahmad

Research Consultant

Salman Ahmad is a law graduate from the University of the Punjab, Pakistan and has been practicing law in the lower subordinate courts of Lahore and Kasur. Mr. Ahmad regularly represents clients before the Session and Civil Courts in Pakistan. On this project he researched the post partition frameworks setup by the Government of Pakistan for the purpose of rehabilitation of refugees, citizenship, and the administration of evacuee property in all provinces of Pakistan.

Farhan Zia

Research Consultant

Farhan is a law graduate from Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, India. Their interest lies in the interdisciplinary study of Constitutional law, and Human rights law with that of history, religion and gender. They are currently pursuing a Masters of Law (LLM) in Comparative Constitutional Law from Central European University, Vienna.

B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) 2017-2022
Jindal Global Law School

Manya Kagan

Research Consultant

Manya Oriel Kagan is a sociologist of education whose research lies at the intersection of refugee studies, education and urban studies, looking at questions of inclusion and belonging using alternative participatory arts-based methodologies and mapping techniques. Her PhD, from Ben Gurion University in Negev, Israel, was an ethnographic study of refugee children’s schooling experiences in Kampala, Uganda. She is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania, working at the “Global Shifts, Migration, Urbanization and Climate Change” lab.

Supporting institutions