War Emigration and its Impact on Post-War Reconstruction of Neighborhoods: A Case Study of Khorramshahr after the Iran-Iraq War

Part of the TRAFO series “Reconstructing Neighborhoods of War”

By Mohammad Hassan Khani

Wars force people to move from their homeland and to settle in new places far from the fighting, either inside their own country or by taking refuge in a foreign country. Leaving cities and villages in the form of massive migration is one of the most important consequences of wars, with social, economic and political ramifications. The impact of this aspect of war continues even after the end of a military conflict and negatively affects the process of reconstruction in war torn neighborhoods. This entry is an attempt to explore the long-term effects of wartime migrations in the post-war era, focusing on and examining the situation in the Iranian city of Khorramshahr after the Iran-Iraq war where a number of factors, most of them related to wartime migration, affected the post-war reconstruction efforts there.

Iranian soldiers fighting in the Battle of Khorramshahr.
Date: Before 1982. Source: http://tashohada.ir/fa/paper/00640

“Deciding not to return”

The decision not to return to the city after the war which was made by part of the city’s population is perhaps the most important factor in the failure of the reconstruction process in Khorramshahr. The presence of residents as a human element and an engine for the rebuilding process is of vital importance in the post-war reconstruction. This concerns especially the part of the population who used to be a driving force behind trade, economy, and local business in the city. In other words, the absence of a middle class population to push the local authorities and central government to hasten the reconstruction efforts seems to be a very important factor in weakening and hampering post-war reconstruction efforts. Fewer returning people means fewer demands from below, and less demand means less planning and funding for reconstruction by the government.

Longer conflicts lead to longer periods of migration during which upper-middle class families and those who have higher education and technical expertise can establish themselves in their new destinations. This means that in longer wars and conflicts like the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted for 8 years, the families who left the war zone would settle in new cities and adopt those cities as their new homes, making them reluctant to go back to their previous homes, when they feel they have a better life where they are right now and are not ready to take the risk of returning to yet another unknown situation.

The fact that living outside one’s home city or home country also changes the religious and cultural orientation of many migrants makes it even less likely for them to return home when the war is over. Living in big cosmopolitan cities can change the attitudes and tastes of immigrants. It can lead to a cultural transformation and create a generational gap within families. The new generation, born and perhaps married in new cities, often feel less belonging to their old homelands and think twice before deciding to return. It is in this way that war refugees become economic, social and political immigrants.

Finally, the decision by authorities to give priority to build large residential complexes, flats, and apartments rather than individual houses has created a heterogeneous community with cultural cracks and social tensions among the residents of new neighborhoods who did not choose their neighborhoods and their neighbors. This factor made people leave the reconstructed neighborhoods.

Natural catastrophes, such as climate change, have played a very negative role in the Khorramshahr case. During the past few decades, constant waves of massive dust and sand storms have hit the city and the whole region of Khuzestan province. Additionally, the wetlands around the city, which used to be a source of life for wildlife and agriculture for the region, gradually transformed to a dried-up no man’s land. The drying out of rivers and wetlands in the region has changed the natural landscape in a way that the war never did. The region is being changed from farmland and orchards to barren desert beset by regular dust storms which are leading to a new wave of emigration.


Mohammad Hassan Khani is a graduate of Peace Studies Department at Bradford University in the UK and currently a member staff of the Faculty of Political Science & Islamic Studies at Imam Sadiq University in Tehran. He is a founding member of the Iranian Political Science Association as well as the Iranian International Relations Association.


Further articles in the series “Reconstructing Neighborhoods of War” on TRAFO:

Birgit Schäbler, Introduction: The Importance of Being Earnest About Neighborhoods, 28 August 2019.

Kevin Mazur, Not Just Neo-Liberalism: Spontaneous Settlement and Violent Conflict in Homs, Syria, 4 September 2019.

Mazen Haidar, Neighbors at War in 1975-77 Beirut, 11 September 2019.

Piotr Korduba, The Reconstruction of Warsaw: Between Abhorrence and Acceptance, 18 September 2019.

Paul Sigel, “More Beautiful than Ever Before!” Neighborhood-Rebuilding in Divided Germany as Political Propaganda during the Cold War, 25 September 2019.

Allam Al-Kazei, Beyond the Atomic Bombing: The Revival of Hiroshima’s Neighborhoods, 2 October 2019.


Citation: Mohammad Hassan Khani, War Emigration and its Impact on Post-War Reconstruction of Neighborhoods: A Case Study of Khorramshahr after the Iran-Iraq War, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 17.10.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/19803.


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