What Does Living In Exile Mean?

Left: Napoleon I of France was exiled to a remote island in the final years of his life. Right: Early Baha'i leaders were exiled in the mid-19th Century.
Left: Napoleon I of France was exiled to a remote island in the final years of his life. Right: Early Baha'i leaders were exiled in the mid-19th Century.

Meaning of Exile

When a person or persons are banished from their homeland (city, state or country) they are said to be sent into exile. An exiled person or group are refused permission to reenter and may be threatened with death or imprisonment if they return. Exile is almost always a form of punishment and banishment is used to deport people who are a perceived threat to authorities. Internal exile is a forced resettlement within the home country. Exile can also be self-imposed with people departing their country to escape religious, cultural or political persecution or as a form of protest. A person may go into self-exile to be in solitude to devote time to a pet pursuit.

Political Exiles

Most individual exiles are political, where the deposed person is the head of state who is sent into exile following a coup, etc. to allow a peaceful transition of government. The list of deposed heads of states is quite long and, beginning with Napoleon, who was exiled to the remote Southern Atlantic island of St. Helena where he spent his last years until his death, includes emperors, kings, presidents, and prime ministers. However, religious leaders have also been banished from their homelands. The Muslim prophet Mohammed had to flee Mecca and settle in Medina following a threat to his life. Baha’ullah, prophet of the Baha’i faith was repeatedly resettled. First from Tehran, his homeland to Baghdad in 1853, then fearing his growing influence in the region, Iraqi authorities banished him to Constantinople in 1863. The same year he was exiled to Adrianople and finally to Akka in present day Israel in 1868.

Nation in Exile

When large ethnic groups or an entire nation is forced to relocate and refused return, a whole nation is exiled and are referred to as their former country’s diaspora. Jews were twice from expelled from Babylonia, first by king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. and again after the destruction of the second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. After Poland was partitioned in the late 18th century by Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary, there were various uprisings and the allies banished a large section of the polish population and many left voluntarily. They formed large diaspora groups in France and the United States, which were referred to as Polonia. The entire population of Crimean Tatars was expelled from Crimea in 1944 as a form of ethnic cleansing.

Government in Exile

This is a political group, which claims to be a country’s legitimate governing body but resides in a foreign country and has no legal authority in their home country. Governments in exile plan and work to regain formal power in their home country some day. It is different from a rump state, which controls part of its former territory. Belgium’s government and its allies held on to a small part of land in the west, when the rest of the country was occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II. During the German expansion in the war, many European governments fled to the United Kingdom rather than face persecution by the Germans. The effectiveness and success of an exiled government depends on the quantum of support it receives from the country of their current residence and from other foreign governments. Their home country’s population can also help them come back to power. Some governments in exile can pose a serious challenge to the ruling powers in the home country while others have only symbolic importance.


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