Migration is not a new phenomenon: people have been on the move since the dawn of humankind. Indeed, the history of humanity is a history of migration – some have even argued that movement is our natural state. Migration has always been an essential part of our adaptation to environmental stress, social upheaval and other challenges. The same is true today, even though it has now become global in scale.
‘Human migration is a history of the world, and the present is a reflection of this history.‘Russell King, The History of Human Migration
Migration is not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, human beings have been migrating since the dawn of humankind, long before even the first signs of civilization emerged in the Middle East. While the contexts and actors have changed over time, movement itself has been a constant of human experience. Even without the pressures of conflict or climate change, it is natural for people to move.
Our ancestors emigrated from Africa and were moving around the Eurasian grasslands and tundra in the footsteps of migrating herds of mammoths and mastodons. It took ages for humanity to spread around the whole world – this process ended some 9,500 years ago when our ancestors stepped into the southernmost tip of South America.
Much later, Europeans began to colonize the so-called ‘new world’ and subsequently enslaved millions of people from Africa to work in brutal conditions on their plantations. In the centuries that followed, a hundred of thousands of Europeans emigrated to the United States from their homelands in the Austria-Hungarian empire, Scandinavia and elsewhere, including Ireland, with millions forced by starvation in the nineteenth century to flee their countries.
Recently, thanks to new technologies, advances in transportation and also the fact that more people now have the resources to migrate thanks to poverty reduction, global migration has increased both in scale and complexity. We cope with migration processes at the global level. These changes are striking and compel us to rethink the way we look at and perceive the world and migration in general.
Just imagine, some 2,000 years ago, at the height of the Roman Empire, how painful and protracted human movement could be. It would take months to reach the area of present day Prague from Rome, walking or riding under daggered mountain peaks, through the dangerous and wild forests of the Alps. Now you can just sit in a plane and be there in less than two hours. If you are lucky enough to have a powerful passport.
Even just a few decades ago, human movement – particularly across national borders or entire continents – took place at much lower levels than is the case today. While people have been migrating for millennia, the dynamics as well the destinations and countries of origin have changed. As has the nature of migration itself. It may change again in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Hence, the need for journalism to respond with a truly global outlook in order to accurately capture this constantly evolving global reality. Given how migration is increasingly impacting on many different areas, providing audiences with a clear and informed picture of this complex phenomenon could support the decisions on the world around them.