Population transfer

Population transfer

Population transfer is the movement of a large group of people from one region to another by state policy or international authority, most frequently on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Banishment or exile is a similar process, but is forcibly applied to individuals and groups.

Often the affected population is transferred by force to a distant region, perhaps not suited to their way of life, causing them substantial harm. In addition, the loss of all immovable property and, when forced, the loss of substantial amounts of movable property, is implied.

Population exchange is the transfer of two populations in opposite directions at about the same time. Such exchanges have taken place several times in the 20th century, such as between post-Ottoman Turkey and Greece, and during the partition of India and Pakistan.

Issues arising from population transfer

According to political scientist Norman Finkelstein "transfer" was considered as an acceptable solution to the problems of ethnic conflict, up until around World War II and even a little afterward, in certain cases. Transfer was considered a drastic but "often necessary" means to end an ethnic conflict or ethnic civil war. [ Finkelstein, Norman "Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, 2nd Ed" (Verso, 2003) p.xiv - "also" [http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=4&ar=10 An Introduction to the Israel-Palestine Conflict] ] The feasibility of population transfer was hugely increased by the creation of railroad networks from the mid-19th century.

Population transfer differs more than simply technically from individually-motivated migration, though at times of war, the act of fleeing from danger or famine often blurs the differences. If a state can preserve the fiction that migrations are the result of innumerable "personal" decisions, then the state may be able to justify its stand that it has not been culpably involved. Jews who had actually signed over properties in Germany and Austria during Nazism found it nearly impossible to be reimbursed after World War II.

Changing status in international law

The view of international law on population transfer underwent considerable evolution during the 20th century. Prior to World War II, a number of major population transfers were the result of bilateral treaties and had the support of international bodies such as the League of Nations. Even the expulsion of Germans from central and eastern Europe after World War II was sanctioned by the Potsdam Agreement. The tide started to turn when the Charter of the Nuremberg Trials of German Nazi leaders declared forced deportation of civilian populations to be both a war crime and a crime against humanity, and this opinion was progressively adopted and extended through the remainder of the century. Underlying the change was the trend to assign rights to individuals, thereby limiting the rights of states to make agreements which adversely affect them.

There is now little debate about the general legal status of involuntary population transfers: "Where population transfers used to be accepted as a means to settle ethnic conflict, today, forced population transfers are considered violations of international law." ["Denver Journal of International Law and Policy", Spring 2001, p116. ] No legal distinction is made between one-way and two-transfers, since the rights of each individual are regarded as independent of the experience of others.

An interim report of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (1993) says: [ [http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/0/683f547c28ac785880256766004ecdef?OpenDocument The human rights dimensions of population ] ] :"Historical cases reflect a now-foregone belief that population transfer may serve as an option for resolving various types of conflict, within a country or between countries. The agreement of recognized States may provide one criterion for the authorization of the final terms of conflict resolution. However, the cardinal principle of "voluntariness" is seldom satisfied, regardless of the objective of the transfer. For the transfer to comply with human rights standards as developed, prospective transferees must have an option to remain in their homes if they prefer."The same report warned of the difficulty of ensuring true voluntariness: "some historical transfers did not call for forced or compulsory transfers, but included options for the affected populations. Nonetheless, the conditions attending the relevant treaties created strong moral, psychological and economic pressures to move."

The final report of the Sub-Commission (1997) [ [http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.Sub.2.1997.23.En?OpenDocument Final Report of the Special Rapporteur on ] ] invoked a large number of legal conventions and treaties to support the position that population transfers contravene international law unless they have the consent of both the moved population and the host population; moreover, that consent must be given free of direct or indirect negative pressure.

"Deportation or forcible transfer of population" is defined as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Article 7). [ [http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/icc/statute/part-a.htm Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 1 to 33)- Prevent Genocide International ] ] The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has put on trial, and in some cases has convicted, a number of politicians and military commanders indicted for forced deportations in that region.

Given the logistics of a forced "transfer," it is widely thought of as a euphemism for ethnic cleansing. In its most idealistic connotation, "transfer" is the mildest form of ethnic cleansing — a peaceful relocation of a compliant people from one area to another. Nationalist agitation can harden public support, one way or the other, in favor of or against population transfer as a solution to current or possible future ethnic conflict while these attitudes can be cultivated by supporters of either plan of action with its supportive propaganda used as a typical political tool by which their goals can be achieved.

Timothy V. Waters argues in "On the Legal Construction of Ethnic Cleansing" that the expulsions of the German population east of the Oder-Neisse line the Sudetenland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe without legal redress has set a legal precedent that can permit future ethnic cleansing of other populations under international law. [ [http://law.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4600&context=expresso Timothy V. Waters, "On the Legal Construction of Ethnic Cleansing"] , Paper 951, 2006, University of Mississippi School of Law. Retrieved on 2006, 12-13]

Cases of population transfer

Ancient world

In the ancient world, population transfer was the more humane alternative to putting all the males of a conquered territory to death and enslaving the women and children. The Babylonian captivity of the elite of Jerusalem on three occasions in the 6th century BCE was a population transfer.


The Inca were known to have dispersed conquered ethnic groups throughout their empire. The intent was to break down traditional community ties and force the heterogeneous population to adopt the Quechua language and culture. Never fully successful in the pre-Columbian era, these totalitarian policies ironically experienced their greatest success when they were adopted as a pan-Andean identity defined against Spanish rule starting in the 16th century. Much of our knowledge of Inca population transfers comes from their description by the Spanish chroniclers Pedro Cieza de León and Bernabé Cobo.


Removal of the population from along their borders with the Ottomans in Kurdistan and the Caucasus was of strategic importance to the Safavids. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, along with large groups of Armenians, Assyrians, Azeris, and Turkmens, were forcibly removed from the border regions and resettled in the interior of Persia. The Khurasani Kurds are a community of nearly 1.7 million people deported from western Kurdistan to North Khorasan, (northeastern ").

Expulsion of Jews and Gypsies

Expulsions of Jews and of Roma people reflect the awesome power of state control that has been applied as a tool, in the form of expulsion edicts, laws, mandates, etc., over them for centuries. The most famous such event was the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain in 1492. See Jewish refugees, and History of anti-Semitism for more details.

Another event, in 1609, was the final transfer of 300,000 Muslims out of Spain, after more than a century of Catholic trials, segregation, and religious restrictions. Most of the Spanish Muslims went to North Africa and to areas of Ottoman Empire control. [http://www.webislam.com/numeros/2000/00_5/Articulos%2000_5/Andalusian_Reflections.htm ]


Two famous transfers connected with the history of France are the expulsion of the Jews, 1308, and of the Huguenots who were declared illegal by the Edict of Fontainebleau, 1685. In both cases, the population was not forced out but rather their religion was declared illegal.

United States: Native American relocations

In the nineteenth century, the United States government removed a number of Native American nations to federally owned and designated Indian reservations. Starting in the 1830s with the Choctaw people, the policy known as Indian removal relocated many nations living east of the Mississippi River to the Indian Territory in the west, a process that resulted in the "Trail of Tears" for the Cherokees. Resistance to Indian removal led to several violent conflicts, including the Second Seminole War in Florida. Later in the century, the establishment of reservations for the Plains Indians led to numerous Indian Wars.

Ottoman Empire

Population transfers in the classical period, 1300-1600

The early Ottoman state utilized forced population transfers as a tool to reorder the ethnic and economic landscape of its territories. The term used in Ottoman documents is surgun, from the verb surmek, to displace.

Ottoman population transfers through the reign of Mehmet I (d. 1421) shuttled tribal Turkmen and Tatar groups from the state's Asiatic territories to the Balkans (Rumeli). Many of these groups were supported as paramilitary forces along the frontier with Christian Europe. Simultaneously, Christian communities were transported from newly conquered lands in the Balkans into Thrace and Anatolia. While these general flows back and forth across the Dardanelles continued, the reigns of Murad II (d. 1451) and Mehmet II (d. 1481) focused heavily on the demographic reorganization of the empire's urban centers. Murad II's conquest of Salonika was followed by its state-enforced settlement by Muslims from Yenice Vardar and Anatolia. Mehmet II's transfers focused on the re-population of the city of Istanbul following its conquest in 1453, transporting Christians, Muslims, and Jews into the new capital from across the empire.

Beginning in the reign of Bayezid II (d. 1512), transfers were used to manage the Ottoman state's difficulty with the heterodox kizilbas movement in eastern Anatolia. Forced relocation of the kizilbas continued until at least the end of the 16th century. Merchants, artisans, and scholars were transported to Istanbul from Tabriz and Cairo under Selim I (d. 1520). The state mandated Muslim immigration to Rhodes and Cyprus following their conquests in 1522 and 1571, respectively, and resettled Greek Cypriots on the Anatolia coast.

Knowledge of the Ottoman usage of surgun from the 17th through the 19th century is sketchy. It appears that the state did not utilize forced population transfers during this time to the extent that it did during its expansionist period. [http://www.unm.edu/~phooper/thesis_condensed.pdf]

Balkan population exchanges, 1913

After the exchanges in the Balkans, forced population transfer was used by the Great Powers and later the League of Nations as a mechanism for increasing homogeneity in post-Ottoman Balkan states. A Norwegian diplomat working with the League of Nations as a High Commissioner for Refugees beginning 1919, proposed the idea of a forced population transfer modeled on the earlier post Balkan-war Greek-Bulgarian mandatory population transfer of Greeks in Bulgaria to Greece, and Bulgarians in Greece to Bulgaria.

Armenian population

The event known as the Armenian Genocide involved large scale one way population transfer, thus it must be mentioned here, but it involved and culminated in ethnic cleansing and . For more information see Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire was deported and transferred in the years from 1915-1919. It was organised by the Young Turk Ottoman government and officially called "tehcir" (meaning "forced relocation", but it was translated into English as deportation or banishment—effectively what "tehcir" was in this context). These deportations led to the death of approximately 500 thousand Armenians, many of whom were deported to the Syrian deserts in inhumane death marches with atrocious conditions. Consequently the Transfer of the Armenian population and associated events are considered Genocide. Thus the "population transfer" was not the actual goal of the deportations (this was the elimination of the Armenians), but it was the means of achieving this goalFacts|date=June 2008.

Republic of Turkey

Greece and Turkey: population exchanges, 1923

The League of Nations defined those to be mutually expelled as the "Muslim inhabitants of Greece" to Turkey and moving "the Christian Orthodox inhabitants of Turkey" to Greece. The plan met with fierce opposition in both countries and was condemned vigorously by a large number of countries. Undeterred, Fridtjof Nansen worked with both Greece and Turkey to gain their acceptance of the proposed population exchange. About 1.5 million Greeks and half a million Muslims were moved from one side of the international border to the other.

Population transfer prevented further attacks on minorities in the respective states while Nansen was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace. As a result of the transfers, the Muslim minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Turkey were much reduced. Cyprus was not included in the Greco-Turkish population transfer of 1923 because it was under direct British control.


Between 1924 and 1945, Benito Mussolini's Fascist government forced minorities living in Italy to assume the Italian language and culture, and worked to erase any traces of the existence of other nations on the territory of Italy.

This program of Italianization aimed to suppress the native non-Italian populations living in Italy. The affected populations were Slovenes and Croats in the Julian March, Lastovo and Zadar; between 1941 and 1943 the Gorski Kotar and coastal Dalmatia; German-speakers in South Tyrol, parts of Friuli and the Julian March, Francoprovençal-speaking peoples in the Aosta Valley, as well as Greeks, Turks and Jews on the Dodecanese islands.

In 1939, Hitler and Mussolini agreed to give the German-speaking population of South Tyrol a choice (the Alto Adige Option Agreement): they could emigrate to neighbouring Germany (including annexed Austria) or stay in Italy and accept their complete Italianisation. Because of the outbreak of World War II, this agreement was just partially consummated.

Meanwhile in the Aosta Valley, a forced programme of Italianization included population transfers of Valdostans into Piedmont and Italian-speaking workers into Aosta, fostering movements towards separatism.

Central Europe

After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact divided Poland during World War II, Germans deported Poles and Jews from Polish territories annexed by Nazi Germany, while the Soviet Union deported Poles from areas of Eastern Poland, Kresy to Siberia and Kasakhstan. From 1940 on Hitler tried to get Germans to resettle from the areas where they constituted a minority (the Baltics, South-Eastern and Eastern Europe) to the Warthegau - the region around Poznań, German "Posen". For this reason he expelled the Poles and Jews who formed there the majority of the population. Before the war the Germans constituted 16% of the population in the area. [ [http://www.archive.org/stream/displacementofpo031323mbp/displacementofpo031323mbp_djvu.txt The Displacement Of Population In Europe (1943)] ]

The Nazis initially tried to press Jews to emigrate. In Austria they succeeded in driving out most of the Jewish population. But increasing foreign resistance brought this plan to a virtual halt. Later on Jews were transferred to ghettoes and eventually to death camps. Use of forced labor in Nazi Germany during World War II occurred on a large scale. The Germans abducted about 12 million people from almost twenty European countries; about two thirds of whom came from Eastern Europe. [ [http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,1757323,00.html Final Compensation Pending for Former Nazi Forced Laborers] ]

After World War II, when the Curzon line was implemented, members of all ethnic groups were transferred to their respective new territories (Poles to Poland, Ukrainians to Soviet Ukraine). The same applied to the former German territories east of Oder-Neisse line, where German citizens were transferred to Germany. Germans were expelled from areas annexed by the Soviet Union and Poland as well as territories of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia. [ [http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/495765/refugee refugee -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia] ] From 1944 until 1948, between 13.5 and 16.5 million Germans were expelled, evacuated or fled from Central and Eastern Europe.

Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges - Poles that resided east of the established Poland-Soviet border were deported to Poland (ca. 2,100,000 persons) and Ukrainians that resided west of the established Poland-Soviet Union border were deported to Soviet Ukraine. Population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to May 1946 (ca. 450,000 persons). Some Ukrainians (ca. 200,000 persons) left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily (between 1944 and 1945). [ [http://www.migrationeducation.org/13.0.html Forced migration in the 20th century] ] The second event occurred in 1947 under Operation Wisła. [ [http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/lang/languages/langmin/euromosaic/pol6_en.html The Euromosaic study: Ukrainian in Poland] . European Commission, October 2006.]

Nearly 20 million persons in Europe fled their homes, were expelled, transferred or exchanged during the process of sorting out ethnic groups between 1944 and 1951. [ [http://www.jstor.org/pss/1405220 Postwar Population Transfers in Europe: A Survey, by Joseph B. Schechtman] ]

oviet Union

Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. Over 1.5 million people were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. Separatism, resistance to Soviet rule and collaboration with the invading Germans were cited as the main official reasons for the deportations, although an ambition to ethnically cleanse the regions may have also been a factor. After the WWII, the population of East Prussia was replaced by the Soviet one, mainly by Russians.

One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference was that the Allies would return all Soviet citizens that found themselves in the Allied zone to the Soviet Union (Operation Keelhaul). This immediately affected the Soviet prisoners of war liberated by the Allies, but was also extended to all Eastern European refugees. Outlining the plan to forcibly return the refugees to the Soviet Union, this codicil was kept secret from the American and British people for over fifty years. [Jacob Hornberger "Repatriation — The Dark Side of World War II". The Future of Freedom Foundation, 1995. [http://www.fff.org/freedom/0495a.asp] ]

outh East Europe

In September 1940 with the return of Southern Dobruja (the Cadrilater) by Romania to Bulgaria under the Treaty of Craiova, 80,000 Romanians were compelled to move north of the border, while 65,000 Bulgarians living in Northern Dobruja moved into Bulgaria.

During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, the breakup of Yugoslavia caused large population transfers, mostly involuntary. Because it was a conflict fueled by ethnic nationalism, people of minority ethnicity generally fled towards regions where their ethnicity was in a majority.

The phenomenon of "ethnic cleansing" was first seen in Croatia but soon spread to Bosnia. Since the Bosnian Muslims had no immediate refuge, they were arguably hardest hit by the ethnic violence. United Nations tried to create "safe areas" for Muslim populations of eastern Bosnia but in cases such as the Srebrenica massacre, the peacekeeping troops failed to protect the "safe areas" resulting in the massacre of thousands of Muslims.

The Dayton Accords ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, fixating the borders between the two warring parties roughly to the ones established by the autumn of 1995. One immediate result of the population transfer following the peace deal was a sharp decline in ethnic violence in the region.

See [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/balkans/overview/bosnia.htm Washington Post Balkan Report] for a summary of the conflict, and [http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/ops/bosnia.htm FAS analysis of former Yugoslavia] for population ethnic distribution maps.

A massive and systematic deportation of Serbia's Albanians took place during the Kosovo War of 1999, with around 800,000 Albanians (out of a population of about 1.5 million) forced to flee Kosovo. This was quickly reversed at the war's end, but thousands of Serbs were in turn forced to flee into Serbia proper.

A number of commanders and politicians, notably Serbia and Yugoslavia's former president Slobodan Milošević, were put on trial by the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for a variety of war crimes, including deportations and genocide.


In the Caucasian region of the former Soviet Union the phenomenon of population transfer along ethnic lines has affected many thousands of individuals in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan proper; from Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia proper; as well as from Chechnya and adjacent areas within Russia.

outh Asia

When British India became independent after the Second World War its Muslim inhabitants formed their own state consisting of two non-contiguous territorial entities: East and West Pakistan. In order to facilitate the creation of new states along religious lines (as opposed to racial or linguistic lines) population exchanges between India and Pakistan were implemented, at the expense of significant human suffering in the process. More than 5 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from present-day Pakistan into present-day India, and more than 6 million Muslims moved in the other direction. A large number of people (more than a million by some estimates) died in the accompanying violence.

On the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia between 1967 and 1973 the British Government forcibly removed 2000 Chagossian islanders to make way for a military base. Despite court judgments in their favour, they have not been allowed to return from their exile in Mauritius, although there are signs that financial compensation along with an official apology is being considered by the British government.

Middle East

As the focus of all three of the major Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — which have frequently been mutually antagonistic, the Middle East has suffered periodic population transfers motivated by religious beliefs.

Kuwait expelled 500,000 Palestinian Arabs after the Gulf War because of their support for Saddam Hussein's invasionFact|date=May 2008.

Israel/Palestine - 1948-1967

Although not part of an officially orchestrated population transfer, at least not where both sides were in agreement to such a transfer, a parallel of population movements in opposite directions occurred at the time of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and during the following years. The majority of the Arab population of the area of what is now the State of Israel is said [Morris, Benny (2004). "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00967-7] to have opted to flee because of the promise by surrounding Arab nations to reconquer Israel for them between 1948 and 1950. This account, however, is disputed; Saudi King Abdullah II during this time made a public announcement for all Palestinians to remain and not leave their homes. Nevertheless, for that reason or in response to the Deir Yassin massacre)] , many Arabs fled the country. On the other hand, there was a large influx of Jews from the Arab world into the newly established state of Israel, most as refugees. The Palestinian exodus of between 420,000 and 910,000 people during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, was subsequently followed by the Jewish exodus from Arab lands of a similar magnitude between 758,000 and 866,000 people. While two thirds of these Arab Jewish refugees settled in Israel, the bulk of the Arab refugees from the former British Mandate of Palestine ended up in the Gaza strip (under Egyptian rule between 1949 and 1967) West Bank (under Jordanian rule between 1949 and 1967), Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The cause of these population movements is hotly debated and disputed by each side.

Although the actual population transfer between the Jewish Arabs from across the Arab world and non-Jewish Arabs of Palestine only took place around the period of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the idea of the transfer of non-Jewish Arabs from Palestine, usually to Iraq (where there was a sizable Iraqi Jewish population), had been considered about half a century beforehand. One of the recommendations in the Report of the British Peel Commission in 1937 was for a transfer of Arabs from the area of the proposed Jewish state, and this even included a compulsory transfer from the Plains of Palestine. This recommendation was initially not objected to by the British Government. [Morris (2003), "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited", chapter : The Idea of Transfer in Zionist Thinking]

Israel/Palestine - Current

During August 2005, Israel forcibly transferred all Israeli settlers (10,000) from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank [Resolution 446, Resolution 465, Resolution 484, among others] [cite web| title = Applicability of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and the other occupied Arab territories|publisher=United Nations| date = December 17, 2003| url = http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/97360ee7a29e68a085256df900723485/d6f5d7049734efff85256e1200677754| accessdate=2006-09-27] [cite web|title=Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory| publisher = International Court of Justice|date=July 9, 2004|url=http://domino.un.org/UNISPAl.NSF/85255e950050831085255e95004fa9c3/3740e39487a5428a85256ecc005e157a|accessdate=2006-09-27] [cite web| title = Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention: statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross| publisher = International Committee of the Red Cross| date = December 5, 2001| url = http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/iwpList247/D86C9E662022D64E41256C6800366D55#2| accessdate=2006-09-27] , as part of its Unilateral Disengagement Plan.

Other kinds of transfer

A penal colony such as Georgia, Botany Bay or Devil's Island is a case-by-case transfer that may finally add up to a sizable population, but does not come under this heading. The movement of military POWs can be a case of transfer in cases where the numbers are large. (See forced march, Bataan Death March.)

ee also

*Ethnic cleansing
*Slave trade
*Displaced person
*Political migration
*Population transfer in the Soviet Union


*cite book | author=Sonn, Tamara | title=A Brief History of Islam |publisher= Blackwell Publishing Limited| year=2004 | id= ISBN 1-4051-0900-9
*A. De Zayas, International Law and Mass Population Transfers, Harvard International Law Journal 207 (1975).

External links

* [http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/0/683f547c28ac785880256766004ecdef?OpenDocument UN Report] giving many details of historical population transfers and exchanges (continues at bottom of page)
* [http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/E.CN.4.Sub.2.1997.23.En?OpenDocument Freedom of Movement - Human rights and population transfer] - UN report on legal status of population transfers
* [http://www.jewishgates.com/file.asp?File_ID=68 Medieval Jewish expulsions from French territories]
* [http://www.conceptwizard.com/conen/conflict_2.html conceptwizard.com "History in a Nutshell"] , the source of population transfer statistics in the Middle East
* [http://www.unm.edu/~phooper/thesis_condensed.pdf Forced population transfers in early Ottoman imperial strategy] , a comparative thesis that treats the subject in some detail, and includes a general evaluation of the use of population transfers by states in the pre-modern period

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