Ethnic Cleansing

The term “ethnic cleansing” refers to the forced removal of a racial or ethnic group from an area either by murder or deportation. An example of ethnic cleansing is the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” wherein they detailed their plan to exterminate the entire Jewish race. Methods of carrying out ethnic cleansing include destroying people’s homes and businesses as a way to force them out of a particular area. To explore this concept, consider the following ethnic cleansing definition.

Definition of Ethnic Cleansing


  1. The mass deportation or systemic killing of individuals belonging to a particular racial or ethnic group.



Ethnic Cleansing vs. Genocide

Ethnic cleansing and genocide are similar, but there is one main aspect that keeps the two as separate concepts. The term “genocide” always refers to the mass murder of a group of people, whereas ethnic cleansing is more like mass deportation. Genocide can be a form of ethnic cleansing, but ethnic cleansing does not always take the form of genocide. However, some still believe ethnic cleansing and genocide to be one and the same.

For example, ethnic cleansing, unlike genocide, is not an officially recognized crime under international law, so there is no set definition for the term. However, the term “ethnic cleansing” generally refers to the practice of “purifying” an area, or making it “ethnically homogenous.” To do this, individuals in a particular area force the removal of anyone who does not share their “superior” qualities.

Ethnic Cleansing in Modern Times

While ethnic cleaning may sound like an ancient, barbaric practice, there are quite a few recent examples that have occurred during the 20th and 21st centuries.


During World War II, Nazi soldiers, along with certain Albanians, killed approximately 10,000 Serbs in Kosovo and Metohjia. They ethnically cleansed between 80,000 and 100,000  or more. The number may even be higher than that. After the war was over, Yugoslavia, newly communist, banned Serbians and Montenegrins from returning to the homes the soldiers had forced them to abandon.


Ethnic cleansing has occurred in Iraq several times throughout the course of history. Between April 1987 and August 1988, 250 towns and villages in Kurdistan suffered chemical weapons attacks. The government destroyed nearly 2,000 schools, along with about 300 hospitals, 2,450 mosques, and about 30 churches. The government had eliminated nearly all (90 percent) of the Kurdish villages they had targeted.

In 1991, during the Gulf War, Kuwait attempted an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians living in Iraq. Before the purge, there were 400,000 Palestinians in Iraq. After Iraq occupied Kuwait, 200,000 Palestinians fled the area, the government banished them permanently. The government then forced the remaining 200,000 Palestinians to leave by way of terrorizing them with violence and economic pressure.

In 1997 and 1998, Saddam Hussein, as leader of the Iraqi government, ordered the massacre of between 100,000 and 182,000 Kurdish civilians, including women and children. The government also annihilated 4,000 of the 4,655 villages in Kurdistan.

To this day, ethnic cleansing continues in Iraq, with Shia and Sunni militias forcing entire neighborhoods out of Baghdad since 2011. Some civilians choose to leave preemptively out of fear. There is a lack of security in the area, and they fear they will be the next to be killed. In June of 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that nearly 100,000 Iraqis were fleeing Baghdad every month and moving to Syria and Jordan.


During the war in Bosnia, which took place from 1992 to 1995, the Army of the Republika Srpska forced Croats and Bosniaks out of their homes in droves. Also responsible for this ethnic cleanse were the Croatian Defence Council and the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These actions drove about 2,700,000 people out between 1991 and mid-1992. Of that number, over 700,000 sought asylum in different areas throughout Europe.

Ethnic Cleansing Example Involving the Holocaust

One of the most prominent examples of ethnic cleansing in history is the Nazis’ systemic extermination of Jewish people during World War II. At first, what the Nazis engaged in was more like ethnic cleansing, in that they forcefully deported Jews from their homes and businesses to concentration camps, like Auschwitz. However, once they put their “Final Solution” in place, the deportation turned to genocide. The Nazis murdered over 6 million Jews, 250,000 gypsies, and 250,000 homosexuals as part of their “Final Solution.”

The “Final Solution”

The “Final Solution,” or the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” was the Nazis’ plan to rid the world of all Jewish people during World War II. The “Final Solution” was a code name the Nazis used to refer to their murder of any and all Jews they could find. As the result of their “Final Solution,” the Nazis ended up murdering 90 percent of the Polish Jewish population, and two-thirds of the European Jewish population.