learning pages / Themes and topics

5.1 : Migration as a global phenomenon.

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.

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5.2 : What is migration?

Simply put, migration is human movement from one place to another. It may involve a single individual or an entire community, internal resettlement within a country or a journey spanning multiple continents, forced flight from the threat of violence or a voluntary search for opportunities elsewhere. Indeed, in many cases it can involve a mixture of patterns and motivations: for instance, migrants may have to flee very real dangers to themselves and their families, while at the same time actively plan for a better life elsewhere. Migration has a variety of facets and there are plenty of reasons – some even seemingly contradictory – why people decide to leave or stay.

5.3 : Terminology matters: From ‘economic migrants’ to refugees.

'Migrant' is an overarching term for anyone (with the exception of tourists) who moves from one country to another for a significant period of time. A refugee is a person who flees from conflict, persecution of a natural disaster and seeks sanctuary in another country. (In many situations of insecurity, many or even most of those forced to move may in fact remain within their country: these internally displaced people, also called IDPs, rarely receive the same amount of attention in international media, despite often facing considerable challenges). An economic migrant is a person who moves in search of education, employment and other opportunities outside his or her country. Asylum-seekers are people who have applied for asylum in another country. Finally, stateless people are those who have either been deprived of or were born without citizenship.

5.4 : Transnationals.

Technologies have not only enabled people to move across the world far more easily than before, but also to keep in close contact with families back home. In particular, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have facilitated the development of complex social connections, crossing national borders and spanning the globe. As a result, a growing number of migrants are now ‘transnational’.

5.5 : Migration and development.

Migration is often closely linked to processes related to development. There is no single definition of development, but in broad terms it can be understood as the potential for individuals and communities within a society to access services, employment and other opportunities on an equitable basis. If people do not have a chance to develop their potential, if they are excluded from participating in development, they might decide to move.

5.6 : Migration and minorities.

A minority may be a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population but also in some cases larger in number, but in a non-dominant position. Minorities usually possess certain ethnic, religious, linguistic and other characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population. Due to their marginalized position within society, they are vulnerable to discrimination, and are unable to secure an equal share of development opportunities. This all makes these communities more exposed to various challenges that they may attempt to resolve by deciding to move.

5.7 : Smuggling.

According to the UN definition smuggling "is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident." In principle, it implies a level of consent among those being smuggled – as opposed to those subjected to human trafficking, who are effectively captive to their traffickers. Once a migrant is smuggled through a border to their agreed destination, the relationship is usually over, while human trafficking generally involves the continued coercion of victims, often over a period of many years.

5.8 : Fortress Europe.

Since the EU was established, the borders between its member states have been dissolving. Yet at the same time, its external borders have hardened – an approach widely known as ‘Fortress Europe’. Even for those fleeing persecution, entering the EU has become increasingly impossible for most refugees. As a result, many have been forced to take more dangerous routes, with a corresponding rise in the number of dead or missing people as desperation leads them to seek out smugglers and puts them at risk of human trafficking. Fortress Europe does not stop at its actual borders, but goes deep into neighbouring countries or even further in some cases in an attempt to create a buffer zone through a web of agreements, funding, detention centres and naval patrols.

5.9 : Misinterpreted facts on migration.

Migration is an important issue in public debate and policy-making – across Europe and worldwide. And the media are part of it. Sometimes they build their narratives around migration on pure myths or speculation. At other times, however, they may reply on more subtle distortions and misconceptions: these may be, strictly speaking, factually correct but presented or interpreted out of context or misleadingly.

5.10 : Migration causes.

Migration is typically caused by a variety of factors, both ‘push’ and ‘pull’. People might decide to move because of a range of factors, be it employment, security, opportunities, education, even love, unavailable to them in their home country and ‘pulling’ them elsewhere. On the other hand, there can be compelling drivers of displacement such as conflict, persecution, natural disasters and other immediate threats, that push them to migrate. In this post we focus on the latter – push factors related to forced migration.

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