What are some lesser known historical migrations

Migration dossier

Jochen Oltmer

Dr. phil. habil., born in 1965, is apl. Professor of Modern History and member of the board of the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) at the University of Osnabrück.

Migration is not a peculiarity of modernity. A look back at history shows how migration has changed over time. When can we speak of global migration? Was migration over great distances a European phenomenon?

Canada advertises immigrants with posters in Chisinau. Of the 55 to 60 million Europeans who moved overseas between 1815 and 1930, more than two-thirds went to North America, with the number of immigrants to the United States more than six times higher than to Canada. (& copy picture-alliance)
Migration has been a central element of social change from the beginning of human history. That is why the idea is a myth that spatial population movements - even over long distances - are only a phenomenon of modernity or even the present. And it is not only in the context of the development of today's means of mass transport that global migrations of enormous dimensions can be identified. The pre-modern man was no more fundamentally sedentary than the modern man. Another myth is the notion that in the past migration represented a linear process - from permanent emigration from one area to permanent immigration to another: return migration, forms of circular migration and enormous fluctuations characterized local, regional and global migration patterns in the past as in the present. [1]

European expansion and European emigration

One can speak of global migration on a larger scale since the beginning of the global political-territorial, economic and cultural expansion of Europe in the 15th century. The emigration of Europeans to other parts of the world remained moderate from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. In the subsequent period up to the early 20th century, however, it led to a far-reaching change in the composition of the population, especially in the Americas and the southern Pacific, but also in parts of Africa and Asia. The smaller part of the European intercontinental migrants took paths over land and settled mainly in the Asian areas of the Russian Empire. [2] The vast majority overcame the continent's maritime borders: of the 55 to 60 million Europeans who moved overseas between 1815 and 1930, more than two-thirds went to North America, with the number of immigrants to the United States more than six times higher than after Canada. Around a fifth emigrated to South America, around 7 percent reached Australia and New Zealand. North America, Australia, New Zealand, southern South America and Siberia formed "Neo-Europe" as European settlement areas. [3] In the second third of the 20th century, European transatlantic migration came to an end as a mass phenomenon that had shaped the global migration events of the "long" 19th century.

However, long-distance migrations are by no means limited to Europeans. For example, it is assumed that 11 million migrants left China in the "long" 19th century. Of these, more than a third went to Thailand, another third to the Dutch East Indies (especially Borneo), a quarter to French Indochina and around a million to the Philippines. Around half a million reached Australia, New Zealand and various islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Most of them came from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong (Canton) and neighboring Fujian, both of which had very high migration rates. Also to be considered are the extraordinarily extensive movements within the Chinese Empire and especially into the economically strongly emerging Manchuria. [4]

Europe has been a continent of immigration since the late 19th century

Europe, as the main actor in colonial expansion and as the main exporter of people to America, Africa, Asia and the southern Pacific region, had for a long time hardly been a destination for intercontinental immigration. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, at the height of the emigration of Europeans, however, the history of Europe as a continent of immigration began. First of all, educated migrants from the European colonial possessions came to Europe as well as seafarers from Asia and Africa. These were recruited for the rapidly growing European merchant navies in the course of globalization since the end of the 19th century. They reached the European port cities, where the first small settlement centers of Africans and Asians emerged before and after the First World War. [5] Another, and thus third, group of Asian, African or Caribbean pioneer migrants in Europe were the soldiers recruited by the colonial powers in the European theaters of war of the First and Second World Wars, several thousand of whom remained in Europe after the end of the fighting. [6]

The actual mass immigration to the European continent did not begin until after the end of the Second World War, promoted above all by the process of decolonization [7]: The dissolution of the European colonial empires led to an extensive "return migration" of European settlers to Europe. In addition, in the process of decolonization, the immigration of colonial collaborators into the former "mother countries" was permitted, who had supported colonial rule as administrative officials, soldiers or police officers. Above all, the conflict-ridden end of the global empires of the Netherlands (in the late 1940s), France (in the 1950s and early 1960s) and Portugal (early 1970s) resulted in extensive refugee movements and expulsions. Between the end of the Second World War and 1980, a total of 5 to 7 million "Europeans" came to the European continent in the context of decolonization from the (former) colonial areas, including many who were neither born in Europe nor had ever lived in Europe ] In addition, there was extensive post-colonial immigration of former colonizers to Europe, as privileged access existed because of the close links between former colonial metropolises and states that had been granted independence. Among the large European immigration countries, this was especially true for France and Great Britain, but also for the Netherlands and Belgium. [9]


The migratory present: No long-lasting "mass influx" into Europe

Market in Marzahn-Hellersdorf (& copy Susanne Tessa Müller)
The current debates on global migration and cross-border movements from the less developed to the developed countries give the impression that huge "migration flows" have reached Europe in particular from the "global south" in recent years. It is not so. The level of cross-border migration has not increased over the past few decades, rather it has remained stable at a very low level. The latest studies show that between 1960 and 2010, calculated over a period of five years, only around 0.6 percent of the world's population crossed state borders. In absolute numbers that means for 2005–2010: 41.5 million cross-border migrations worldwide. [10] Only in the period from 1990 to 1995 did the proportion of migrants, at 0.75 percent, reach a slightly higher value, mainly due to the migratory consequences of the opening of the "Iron Curtain" and the far-reaching transformations caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and other political systems can be explained especially in Eastern Europe.

What is striking about these data is not only the relatively low level of interstate migration and the pronounced stability over decades. In addition, it can be seen that the majority of movements take place within world regions such as West Africa, South America or East Asia, while migration that crosses the borders of continents is hardly significant. Even in large regions where there are hardly any or no formal migration barriers, the extent of the migration movements remains manageable: Less than 3 percent of all EU citizens live in another EU state, although the Treaty of Rome of 1957 already established freedom of movement as a goal of European integration and for many decades the movements between the European states have been facilitated. [11]

Apart from 2015, the migration situation in Germany has also been shaped primarily by immigration from other European countries: Despite the increase in the number of asylum seekers from the Middle East, a total of 74 percent of all immigrants came to Germany in 2014 achieved only around 5 percent from European countries, for example from Africa. In real numbers, this meant in 2014: Of the around 1.1 million immigrants to Germany, only around 75,000 came from Africa. [12] Despite the advancing globalization in many social, economic and political fields, immigration to Germany generally remained European until 2014. The significant increase in the immigration of asylum seekers in 2015, however, led to a change: The share of European immigrants in total immigration fell to 57 percent and thus to a level that was never before seen in the Federal Republic of Germany.

All of the data mentioned always also include migrations that were triggered by the exercise or threat of violence (flight, displacement, etc.). Most recently, the number of refugees registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has risen significantly: in mid-2016 it was 21.3 million, the highest level of the last quarter of a century, which was last at 20.5 million in 1992. [13] In addition, there were a total of 41 million so-called "internally displaced persons" in 2015 who had evaded violence and persecution within a state but did not come under the mandate of the UNHCR because they did not cross any borders. The worldwide movements of refugees show clear patterns: Flight is rarely a linear process, rather refugees usually move in stages: Often a hasty evasion to the next city or another safe place of refuge in the immediate vicinity can be identified first, then the onward migration to Relatives and acquaintances in a neighboring region or state or going to an informal or regular camp. Patterns of (multiple) return and renewed flight are also common. The background to this is not only the dynamics of the constantly changing and shifting lines of conflict, but also the impossibility of finding security or opportunities to gain income or care at a place of escape. Often people have to adapt to their existence as refugees in the long term or in the long term.

Due to the often extremely limited power of action of those affected, flight is often characterized by immobilization: in front of borders or insurmountable natural obstacles, due to lack of (financial) resources, due to migration policy measures, missing papers or poorly developed networks. Hence the phenomenon of the stabilization of camps with the consequence of "camp urbanization" and the development of "camp cities", some of which are big cities. A large part of the refugees worldwide are immobilized, are often subject to precarious protection in so-called "protracted refugee situations", but have in some cases forfeited agency due to the prevention of movement and are extremely socially vulnerable.

Longer flight distances are relatively rare because the financial means are lacking and transit or destination countries hinder migration. Because refugees mostly strive for a quick return, they usually look for safety in the vicinity of their regions of origin, which are predominantly in the global south. Against this background, 95 percent of all Afghan refugees (2015: 2.6 million) live in the neighboring countries of Pakistan or Iran. The same applies to Syria, which has been in a civil war since 2011: The majority of the Syrian refugees, around 4.8 million, are in the neighboring countries Turkey (2016: 2.7 million), Jordan (660,000), Iraq (225,000) and Lebanon (1 million) dodged. At 7.6 million, the number of people who fled violence within Syria and became internally displaced was even significantly higher. In light of this, it is not surprising that the countries of the global south housed no less than 86 percent of all registered refugees and 99 percent of all internally displaced persons in 2015 - and this has been increasing for years compared to the proportion of the global north. In 2003, the proportion of poorer countries among refugees worldwide was only 70 percent. The global south in particular has been affected by the increase in the global number of refugees and internally displaced persons since the beginning of the 2010s. The fact that, despite this global trend, the Federal Republic of Germany became a target for asylum seekers, especially in 2015 and 2016, is the result of a complex set of conditions, the mechanisms of which cannot yet be fully explored.