The Second World War saw extraordinary movements of people, before, during and afterwards. Civilian internees are rarely considered part of this, and especially not those in South and Southeast Asia. Between December 1941 and May 1946, nearly 2700 Japanese civilians and colonial subjects from across Japan’s empire were interned in camps in British India. Mainly residents of Singapore and Malaya, these civilians were arrested and transferred by ship and train to India, where they were interned for all or part of the war. Their first ‘temporary’ camp was in Purana Qila, the Old Fort in New Delhi, from where some were repatriated to Japan in August 1942 as part of the Anglo-Japanese Civilian Exchange. The remaining civilians were moved to a more permanent camp at Deoli (Ajmer) in 1943. The internees experienced several hardships, including inadequate accommodation and disease. To date, little has been written about these internees and their journeys, especially in English. Weaving together archival sources, internee memoirs and non-English publications, this article seeks to reveal the experience of incarceration on internees in British India as forced migrants of war, and to consider reasons why the history of these internees remains largely invisible.


British India, civilian internment, forced migration, Japan, Second World War, Southeast Asia

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