Migration – only human nature

A herder takes one of his few remaining goats out to look for pasture in drought-hit Somalia. — Oxfam East Africa photo

THE hardships that animals, birds and fish suffer in their annual migrations in order to survive was brought home to me while watching the live Great Migration of thousands of wildebeest, zebras, elephants and antelopes in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park. These animals have to cross the Mara River in search of more verdant pastures in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

National frontiers do not deter them. Predators – lions and cheetahs – await on the plains, along with ivory poachers. In the Mara River there are deadly crocodiles. The elderly, lame and young calves are primary targets. Survival of the fittest and an element of luck determines which animals reach their destination.

So it has been for centuries with human migrations, with destitute people leaving their homelands to seek a better life elsewhere. Both animal and human migration patterns are directly affected by climate change, either seasonal or long term. Such patterns are the result of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors.

Human migration

Strictly speaking, permanent human migration must be distinguished from seasonal migration as seen in migrant farm worker movements. There are two types of human migration – international from country to country and intra-national, which is sometimes called transmigration. The latter is usually associated with the drift from rural to urban areas with perceived greater chances of employment.

Another form of transmigration was experienced in the Democratic Republic of Congo where, in the 1960s, the rainforest pygmy tribes-people were forcibly taken into the capital Kinshasa and housed in high-rise flats. This so-called ‘civilisation’ process inevitably failed in Africa’s third largest city of 11 million residents.

In 1989, the Indonesian government, in its attempt to reduce the population density of the overcrowded island of Java, persuaded over a million inhabitants to transmigrate to Sumatra and Kalimantan. Over 700,000 people relocated on the latter island and were given land rights.

It is thus the intention to live and settle in another place that strictly defines the word migration. Nomadic people, such as the Bedouin tribesmen, are not truly migrants and must be viewed as seasonally moving people who ignore political boundaries.

Migrants and refugees queue to receive some food and beverages during the evacuation of a makeshift camp near Porte de La Chapelle, in Paris. – AFP Photo

Push factors

Many of the factors mentioned cannot be viewed in isolation for in most cases it is a combination of factors which cause people to migrate. Most commonly it is a scarcity of jobs and poor employment opportunities combined with poor housing, inadequate medical care and educational provision that force people to move. Climate change, leading to desertification, drought and famine, or natural disasters such as landslides and earthquake are also major push factors.

The eruption of the volcano at Queen Mary’s Peak on the British South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cuhna, in 1961, forced all 264 islanders to evacuate their homes. They were resettled in Hampshire, Southern England, and eventually returned to their island in 1965.

Mining operations can lead to river pollution and the demise of fish stocks, upon which people depend for sustenance, forcing people to migrate. Power station emissions and nuclear power station disasters, such as Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, and more recently, Fukushima, Japan, forced villagers to move as their contaminated lands were declared no-go areas.

Today, as witnessed worldwide, political and religious oppression and persecution still remain a major push factor. In the Rwandan Civil War, 1990 to 1994, thousands of minority Tutsis were slaughtered by the majority Hutus. Many thousands of Tutsis migrated to refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Idi Amin’s Ugandan terror campaign caused the expulsion of 60,000 Ugandan Asians, with Britain welcoming half of them and other Commonwealth countries taking in the rest in 1972.

Even earlier, in the events leading up to World War II, Hitler’s rise to power saw the evacuation of many German and Polish Jews to Britain and the Americas leading to the holocaust and mass extermination of the Jews who remained.

Events after 1945 saw the rise of communism, as Germany was divided into West and East, with thousands escaping from East Germany before the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall were erected. With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the creation of a unified Germany, a reverse trend in population movement began with people returning ‘home’.

Pol Pot’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the early 1990s, in Cambodia, led to the extermination of 25 per cent of that country’s population. The unlucky residents of Phnom Penh were transmigrated in what has been described as the greatest caravan of human misery in forced marches to be enslaved in communal farming and political re-education.

The plight of the persecuted Muslim Rohingya in North Myanmar is highlighted by the large migration to neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, often in unseaworthy boats. Thousands have been accommodated in the USA and Malaysia has taken in 146,000 migrants, yet even more are living in two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.

History repeats itself with the persecution of Christians in Syria today. The battle for the repossession of Mosul, by the Assad regime there, has lost thousands of innocent lives with over 300,000 people evacuating their damaged homes in a matter of a month. Between 2011 and today, there are already 5.35 million Syrian refugees with three million living in refugee camps in Turkey and another one million in Lebanon. The people of Somalia, the Yemen and North East Nigeria are plagued with the same battles and the need to migrate.

Pull factors

The attractions of another area away from birth places of villages, towns or nations are equally manifold and interconnected. Greater job opportunities suggest the possibility of better living standards and a perceived better quality of life.

Better medical and educational facilities for the young and old alike are equally important pull factors. Some family members may have lived in the host country for many a year. With better and more accessible telecommunications, the desire to give all family members a better life leads to the emigration of further family members in search of greater security. Political and religious freedom are major pull factors.

One has only to visit graveyards in South Africa, South Australia and California to see engraved on the tombstones numerous local Cornish family names. At the end of the 19th century, the deep, underground tin mining industry collapsed in West Cornwall, UK owing to more accessible sources and more economically mined alluvial tin found in Malaysia.

My own older Cornish relatives often talked about cousins in California and South Africa. It was only later in life that I discovered that a mass migration of unemployed Cornish tin miners saw their re-emergence in deep mining in those foreign parts. Those miners sought employment in gold and diamond mines, settled there in their new country and prospered.

I have visited a world-renowned clothing factory in Mauritius to see mainland Chinese ladies producing garments for the world market. They are employed under contract with two paid passages back to China each year. They live in the firm’s excellent hostels.

Other migrants are not so well treated and exploited by human predators as witnessed in slave labour, prostitution, and people traffickers. How many more migrants’ bodies do we need to see washed up on European Mediterranean beaches when their highly priced unseaworthy transport has been waterlogged? Some of these migrants have trekked across deserts and over high mountain passes, exploited by human predators never to reach the ‘greener pastures’ for which they yearned.

The nations of our world need an awakening to the hatred that exists within their own countries in terms of racism and religious intolerance. Building walls along the US-Mexican border and perhaps new immigration laws in post Brexit Britain will stem the movement of seasonal migrant agricultural labourers who, until recently, have provided both nations with agricultural expertise in backbreaking harvesting jobs and thus increased agricultural output.

Historical perspective

Host nations need to be more welcoming to migrants and appreciate that integration has led to their present population stock. Britain is a multiracial nation today with many migrants over the centuries dating back to the Celtic incursions and those of Anglo-Saxons, followed by Viking and Norman invasions. Later migrants came from the Caribbean, Asia, Somalia, Romania, Poland, and many African and Commonwealth countries.

Migration is an age-old attempt at human survival. The Bible mentions the flight from Egypt and plagues of locusts devastating croplands. In transmigration terms, the orphan Dick Whittington left his town in the 14th century in search of ‘the streets paved with gold’ in London.

With the recently published fact that in 2025 some 1.25 billion people will be without fresh water supply, all counties in the world can expect more migrants. The have-nots of our world surely deserve a better life for that is their human right.

Migrants wait to disembark from a ship in Catania on the island of Sicily, Italy. – Reuters photo

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