About Fikrun

    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    The Long March
    Europe and Global Migration

    Migration is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it is a constitutive part of humanity and has existed for thousands of years – even in Europe. This article by the migration researcher Jochen Oltmer puts migration in its historical context and gives us a better understanding of current developments.

    Since the earliest days of humanity, migration has been a key element of societal change. This is why it is a myth to believe that spatial population movements – even those over great distances – are a phenomenon of the Modern Age or even the present day. Global migration on an enormous scale did not just begin with the development of today’s means of mass transport. Just like people in the Modern Age, people in the pre-Modern Age were not absolutely settled in one place. It is also a myth to believe that past migration was a linear process, i.e. from permanent emigration from one region to permanent immigration to another. Indeed, remigration, forms of circular migration, and fluctuations were and still are characteristic of local, regional, and global migration. In the past, migrants did not leave home and set out into the complete unknown, and the same is true today; movement within networks is a key feature of past and present migration. In fact, the fundamental forms of migration and conditions that lead to it have hardly changed at all over the past few hundred years.

    Global migration on a larger and large scale began with the start of Europe’s global political-territorial, economic and cultural expansion in the fifteenth century. Between the sixteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, the exodus of Europeans from their home continent to other parts of the world was moderate in scope. However, in the years that followed and right up until the early twentieth century it led to sweeping changes in the make-up of populations, especially in the Americas, the South Pacific, and parts of Africa and Asia. At the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries, the peak of European emigration coincided with the start of Europe’s history as a continent of immigration.

    Since the late 1980s, historical migration research has identified an enormous variety of past migration events and can now reveal trends that cover not just several decades, but several centuries. These trends must be taken into consideration if we are to understand and explain the migratory processes and structures of the present day. The rough overview that follows focuses on the conditions, forms and consequences of spatial population movements that originated in Europe from the sixteenth century onwards. It also explores the reasons for Europe’s transformation into a continent of immigration. In this way, the aim of this article is to illustrate the important role played by Europe in global migration in the Modern Age and at the same time to make it clear that comprehensive and wide-ranging migration has been the norm throughout history.

    A new beginning with far-reaching consequences

    The term ‘migration’ refers to the spatial movement of people. It is used to describe those patterns of regional mobility that had far-reaching consequences for the course of migrants’ lives and which resulted in changes to social institutions. Migration can refer to the crossing of political-territorial borders and the resulting exclusion from one societal structure or the inclusion in another. That said, spatial movements within a political-territorial structure can also be described as migration. Such spatial movements put migrants in a position of having to cope with (considerably) different economic conditions and orders, cultural patterns and societal norms and structures, and to get or earn participation in the various functional areas of society. For instance, most of the spatial movements undertaken as part of the urbanisation process that began in the late eighteenth century took the form of a move from one place to another within a territory or state. Nevertheless, these migrants faced major challenges in terms of their integration into what were for them new economic segments and sectors (industry or the service sector instead of agriculture). Moreover, migration resulted in different ways of life (urban instead of rural), attitudes, and orientations.

    At this time, migration could mean a unidirectional movement from one place to another, but also often involved interim goals or stages, the purpose of which was to acquire the means of continuing the migrant’s journey. Because the result of the migration process was, as a rule, open, permanent settlement elsewhere was only one of the possible outcomes of migration movements. In the case of the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, the number of people who moved there to work increased from approximately 550,000 in 1961 to about 2.6 million in 1973, when the country’s recruitment drive abroad ended. The volume of migration was considerable: between the end of the 1950s and 1973, about 14 million foreign workers came to Germany; about 11 million of them – in other words, almost 80% – returned home again.

    By moving elsewhere either permanently or temporarily, migrants often sought to grasp opportunities to earn money or settle, and to improve their educational prospects. In other words, the objective of spatial movement in such cases was to increase their agency. Migration very often coincided with turning points in a person’s career biography, and with major life decisions such as choosing a partner and starting a family, launching a career, or choosing a place of work, training, and study. For this reason, the majority of migrants were young people and young adults. The ability to grasp the opportunities presented by migration was determined by the specific socially relevant characteristics, attributes, and resources of an individual or members of collectives (e.g. families, households, groups, populations). These included above all gender, age, position in the family cycle, habitus, qualifications, skills, social status (positions, classes), professional status, and membership of ‘ethnic groups’, ‘castes’, ‘races’, or ‘nationalities’, which were often associated with privileges and (birth)rights.

    In view of the fact that each migrant was equipped with varying degrees of economic, cultural, social, legal and symbolic capital, a migrant’s level of autonomy – as an individual or as part of a network or collective – varied considerably. Implementation of a migration project was often the result of a negotiation process characterised by conflict or co-operation within families, family businesses, households, or networks. The agency of those who actually migrated was in some cases minimal because the objective of spatial movements for the purpose of making the most of or grasping opportunities was certainly not always to stabilise or improve the life situation of the migrants themselves. Families or other collectives of origin often sent members out to consolidate or improve the economic and social situation of the collective that remained behind, by ‘sending money home’ or other forms of money transfer. A key precondition for the success of such translocal, economic strategies was the maintenance of social links over what were in some cases long periods and great distances.

    Whether a temporary, circular, or longer-term stay in a different place was seen as an individual or a collective opportunity – and the extent to which this was the case – depended largely on knowledge about migrant destinations, routes and opportunities. In order for work, training and settlement migration to achieve a specific scope and duration there had to be a constant and reliable source of information about the destination. A key element in all this was the oral or written transmission of knowledge about employment, training, marriage, or settlement opportunities by (pioneer) migrants who had already migrated. The information from these migrants was valued highly because the migrants and those back home were either related to or acquainted with each other. This led to chain migration, where migrants followed relatives and acquaintances who had migrated before them.

    As a result, the regions of origin and destinations for migration were generally connected to each other by networks: relations, acquaintances, communities of origin. Loyalty and trust were key bonding forces in such networks. The significance of the transfer of information via networks of relations and acquaintances cannot be overestimated: at least 100 million private ‘letters from America’ were sent from the USA to Germany between 1820 and 1914 and circulated among relatives and acquaintances in the migrants’ places of origin.

    Reliable information that cultivated the decision to emigrate and helped the migrants to implement their plan was generally only available for one specific destination, or for individual, locally limited settlement opportunities or specific job areas, which meant that potential migrants did not really have a realistic choice between different destinations. Although the individual’s migratory agency remained limited as a result, the destination offered extensive links to acquaintances and relatives, links that minimised risks and opened up opportunities: for example, 94% of all Europeans who arrived in North America around 1900 sought out relatives and acquaintances straight away, thereby making themselves less vulnerable and increasing their agency in their place of destination.

    On the one hand, migrant networks offered translocal knowledge about the opportunities and risks of emigration and immigration, about safe routes, and about the mental, physical, and financial strains of the journey. At the place of destination, migrant networks offered protection and orientation in a new world, helped migrants find work opportunities and accommodation, and supported them in their dealings with authorities and state and local institutions. The more extensive the network and the more intensively relationships were cultivated within the network, the more economic and social opportunities it offered. The attractiveness of a migrant destination was measured by the size of the network to which the migrants could have recourse upon arrival and the intensity of the social relationships cultivated within the network of relations and acquaintances. For this reason, a migrant network not only increased the likelihood of more migration, it also constituted migration traditions, thereby influencing the permanency of a migration movement, which existed over long periods and in some cases over several generations.

    Migrant networks were not only kept alive by communication and the mutual provision of services, they also reproduced themselves, especially through marriages (many of which were negotiated not only translocally, but at times transcontinentally), the establishment of clubs and associations, a specific culture of sociability, and also common economic activities. However, the protection and opportunities offered by migrant networks always placed social constraints and obligations on the individual. Keeping the network alive, which could be of existential significance in the context of migration, demanded loyalty and the acceptance of collective responsibility associated with doing someone a service and getting a service in return. Even though they were thousands of kilometres from home, migrants were coerced into sharing specific standards, rationales and objectives. Moreover, members of networks were subject to close social control as a result of the self-contained nature of the links to relations and acquaintances within the network. Trust was enforced, and there were many different possible sanctions involving various degrees of downgrading: the loss of reputation as a result of the loss of trustworthiness, the withdrawal of services, social isolation, and exclusion, which in the context of migration dramatically increased social vulnerability and risks and minimised the ability to grasp the opportunities presented by spatial movements.

    In the context of assignments as a specific form of migration, an organisation or institution (company branches or multinational companies, the diplomatic service, armed forces) took the place of the network of relations and acquaintances. Assignments generally took the form of limited stays in a different location for the purpose of working in a company branch, subsidiary, or third company. They were the expression of long-term corporate strategies that sought to have a constant presence of specialists in the most varied company locations, and provided a framework for the stay in the place of destination in the form of specific infrastructures such as schools, clubs, associations, and societies.

    While an individual’s agency in implementing a migrant project was very high in this context, this was much less true of other constellations. After all, migration was also a possible reaction to crisis constellations, for example, in those cases where emigration was the result of damage to the environment or an acute economic and social emergency. In addition, efforts on the part of institutional (state) players to control and regulate were also able to restrict the agency and, therefore, the freedom and freedom of movement of individuals or collectives to such an extent that there was no real alternative action that could be taken. People fled violence that posed a direct or expected threat to their life and liberty, mostly for political, ethno-national, racist or religious reasons. Forced migration could also mean violent displacement, deportation, or resettlement, which often applied to entire sections of the population.

    European expansion from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries

    After the Spanish and the Portuguese conquered the Americas at the turn of the fifteenth/sixteenth centuries, European migration movements initially remained at a relatively low level. The Spanish and Portuguese rulers did not see their new territories as areas to be settled, but as colonies that could be exploited economically. A large number of labourers was needed for the ‘monetisation’ of their overseas territories, i.e. for the extraction of mineral resources or the production of agricultural commodities. However, there simply weren’t enough labourers available because the conquest of these territories had resulted in a massive decline in the native populations. This decline was caused by the large number of people killed in the battles between the natives and the conquistadors. There was, however, another, even greater contributing factor: Africa, Asia and Europe had been linked epidemiologically for several millennia through migration, trade and travel. This was not the case with Australia and the Americas, which meant that waves of epidemics introduced to the New World by the arrival of the Europeans decimated the indigenous population. Many of the bacteria and viruses that the conquerors brought with them, to which they were immune, proved fatal for the natives. The total population of Spanish South and Central America, which was somewhere in the region of 40 million in the pre-Columbian era, fell to about nine million by 1570 and to about only four million by 1620.

    This briefly-outlined situation was a key trigger for global migration movements from the late fifteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Rough estimates conclude that approximately ten million people moved to the Americas between 1492, the year of Columbus’ arrival in the Caribbean, and 1820. Of these, about two million came from Europe and about eight million were brought from Africa as slaves. In addition to the soldiers and civil servants needed to establish and maintain rule, numerous missionaries also left Europe for the New World. Europe also provided merchants, plantation owners and foremen, urban tradesmen, farmers, and labourers (approximately a third of whom came to the Americas as serfs). In 1800, Europe had approximately 500–600 trading posts, administrative centres, and military bases outside the Americas in Africa, Oceania and Asia (excluding Siberia). Of these, however, only four were permanent settlements with more than 2,000 Europeans each: the Portuguese settlement of Goa on the west coast of the Indian subcontinent, the Spanish settlement of Manila on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, and the Dutch settlements at Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) on the Indonesian island of Java and at Cape Town on the southernmost tip of Africa.

    Rapid globalisation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

    From the early nineteenth century onwards, the number of people leaving Europe behind grew rapidly. This growth peaked with the period of accelerated colonisation and economic globalisation in the 30–40 years preceding the outbreak of World War I. A small proportion of these European intercontinental migrants travelled over land and settled primarily in the Asian territories of the Russian Empire. However, the vast majority crossed the maritime border separating the continents: of the 55–60 million Europeans who moved overseas between 1815 and 1930, more than two-thirds moved to North America, whereby the number moving to the US was six times higher than to Canada. About one-fifth emigrated to South America; approximately 7% moved to Australia and New Zealand. North America, Australia, New Zealand, southern South America and Siberia were the European settlements of Neo-Europe.

    The settlement of Neo-Europe resulted in a displacement of indigenous populations to peripheral regions and often had genocidal tendencies. It led to widespread marginalisation or even a complete elimination of the traditional economic and social systems, ruling structures, and cultural patterns. In all cases, the central trigger for increased European migration in the nineteenth century was the accelerated integration of the settlement areas into the world market. The European demand for raw materials and foodstuffs as well as the boost in investment resulting from the export of capital from Europe generated a high demand for labour in specific parts of the world, opening up new migrant destinations for Europeans. At the same time, the immigration of Europeans to these places resulted in the creation of mass markets for European finished goods, something that further reinforced economic interdependencies. A major prerequisite for the rise in European overseas migration was the migratory interconnections between Europe and overseas migrant destinations that had existed for decades, if not for centuries: pioneer migrants providing information about routes and the opportunities and risks of emigrating overseas. This long-distance migration was also facilitated by the transport situation in Europe – overseas, and to the migrant destinations – all of which had vastly improved in the course of industrialisation. To put it simply: the world was getting smaller. This not only reduced the time needed to make a journey, it also cut the cost of the journey considerably.

    European emigration to the USA began to rise dramatically as far back as the 1820s, when about 152,000 Europeans crossed the Atlantic. In the 1830s, this number rose to about 600,000. The four decades between the 1840s and 1880s were a peak period of immigration: in total, approximately 15 million Europeans, most of whom came from the west, north, and centre of the continent, arrived in the USA. Among them were more than four million Germans, three million Irish people, three million English, Scottish and Welsh citizens, and a million Scandinavians. During this time, the population of the United States increased from about 17 million to 63 million.

    Despite the high and rising levels of immigration and despite the population growth, there was no discrepancy between the growth in population and the work opportunities in North America. On the contrary, the demand for labour continued to rise. The reason for this was an agricultural and industrial boom. Economic growth was closely linked to the permanent territorial expansion of the country beyond the thirteen founding states of the USA. Over the course of just a few decades, the territory of the United States increased fivefold. In 1820, almost three-quarters of the total population of the United States lived in the states on the East Coast and only a quarter west of the Appalachians. Intercontinental immigration and interregional migration in the USA meant that by 1860, half of the US population lived west of the Appalachians. This westward movement of millions of people of European origin to the recently annexed regions in North America can be summed up by the term ‘settler colonialism’. This period ended in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and resulted in a period of expansionist politics of overseas colonisation by the United States.

    The colonial expansion of the USA, Japan and, above all, the European states, reached its zenith during the period of New Imperialism in the thirty to forty years that preceded World War I. The informal political, economic, and military control of Asian, Pacific, African or Latin American regions that was generally preferred by the major European empires in the decades before this period led to a phase of increased imperialist competition in the progressive consolidation of formal colonial rule. The period of increased colonial expansion was also simultaneously a period of accelerated international economic interconnection, which triggered sweeping economic change. Above all, the previously mentioned transport and communications revolution of the nineteenth century led to another dramatic drop in transportation costs, especially at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More and more people and goods were travelling ever greater distances. Communications networks were rapidly developed (regular postal services, telegraphs, and telephones from 1878 onwards). As the number of newspapers and their circulation grew, newspapers became cheap sources of news for everyone. This increased the availability of information about settlement and job opportunities elsewhere. The accelerated development of transport and communications links also facilitated the creation of a migration market: the globally active shipping companies of Europe and North America, which were in direct competition with one another, used the most modern methods of marketing and an extensive network of agents to create a steady stream of new migrant destinations so that these companies could fill their steam ships with migrants.

    The period of accelerated colonialism and economic globalisation in the thirty to forty years preceding World War I constituted the high point of global long-distance migration by European citizens in the nineteenth century. At the start of the century, an average 50,000 people left Europe by sea every year. The 1840s saw the start of a dramatic increase in this area: between 1846 and 1850, an average of over 250,000 migrants crossed the Atlantic every year, with about 80% heading to the USA and 16% to Canada. Between 1851 and 1855, this figure rose to 340,000 – seven times the annual average for the early decades of the nineteenth century. The USA remained the most popular migrant destination: 77% of all European migrants went there, 9% to Canada, and 4% to Brazil. With the global economic crisis of the late 1850s and the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, European immigration to the USA dropped significantly. However, when the War of Secession ended, this immigration directly surpassed the level of the early 1850s, only to sink again with the Long Depression of the 1870s. The years from the 1880s onwards saw European overseas migration peak. In the second half of the 1880s, an average of almost 800,000 Europeans migrated overseas every year, most of them still heading for the USA. The highest levels were reached in the fifteen years before the outbreak of World War I, when an average of more than 1.3 million Europeans set sail from the Old World every year.

    It is frequently overlooked that the transatlantic migration of Europeans was never a one-way street. The less important the long-dominant migration of families for the purpose of agricultural settlement became in the course of the nineteenth century, and the more individuals migrated for the purpose of finding industrial employment rose, the higher the rates of re-migration became. Between 1880 and 1930, four million people returned to Europe from the USA. There were huge differences between the individual returning groups: only 5% of Jewish transatlantic migrants returned, compared to 89% of the Bulgarians and Serbs. The average for Central, Northern, and Western Europeans was 22%. Above all, however, transatlantic migration from eastern, eastern-central and southern Europe, which had dominated this route since the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries, led less and less to definitive emigration and more frequently to return and circular migration. For example, half of the Italians who emigrated to North and South America between 1905 and 1915 returned to Italy.

    Compared with North America, other regions of Neo-Europe increased in attraction, including above all Australia, Brazil and Argentina, but also New Zealand, Uruguay and Chile. Before 1850, the USA had taken in about four-fifths of all Europeans; in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was approximately three-quarters; since the turn of the twentieth century, about half. The increased significance of migrant destinations outside North America was primarily the result of the opening up of large new settlement areas for European farmers and the discovery of raw material deposits, the exploitation of which required large numbers of workers.

    In addition to the settlement of Europeans in colonial areas, the varied and comprehensive migration of Africans and Asians in particular was a direct or indirect result of Europe’s global political-territorial expansion and the economic globalisation that originated in Europe. In the form of flight, displacement or resettlement, this migration was the result of the establishment and enforcement of colonial rule. In the form of deportation, it was the result of the compulsion to cultivate market-compatible products or the far-reaching establishment of plantation economies, which remained reliant on large numbers of (forced) labourers in the long term. In the form of labour migration, it was the result of the change in economic structures, including in particular the exploration and rapid exploitation of raw material deposits that were important for European industrialisation, the shift in agriculture to cash crops, the growth of urban economic areas, or the development of infrastructure (the construction of railways, canals, and ports). In the form of agricultural settlement migration, it was the result of what was the generally violent annexation and conquest of new settlement zones and areas.

    Europe as a migrant destination since the late nineteenth century

    The second third of the twentieth century saw the end of the mass phenomenon of European transatlantic migration, which had shaped global migration in the ‘long’ nineteenth century. In the 1920s, European overseas migration did not reach more than half of the average annual rates reached in the decades before the Great War. In the 1930s, these figures fell once again as a result of the Great Depression: between 1931 and 1940, only 1.2 million overseas migrants were registered across the entire European continent. The average rate of 120,000 migrants per annum was the lowest in 100 years. With the outbreak of World War II, transatlantic migration ground to a complete halt.

    Although European transatlantic migration picked up again in the 1950s, the figures were nowhere near those of the 1920s, let alone the peak period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: states like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands or (West) Germany, which had for so long been major countries of origin in terms of the exodus from Europe, were now registering greater numbers of immigrants than emigrants. Moreover, the migrant flows from other previously important countries of origin for transatlantic migration, such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, or Greece, were now largely focusing on the expanding labour markets of the industrialised countries in northern, western, and central Europe.

    As the main player in colonial expansion and the main exporter of people to America, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, Europe had for a long time been a rare destination for intercontinental immigration. In Britain, the centre of the biggest empire in the world, the number of people of African or Asian origin in the country had already risen as part of the expansion of the empire from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, this number remained relatively small. For 1770, for example, the records speak of only 10,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa in Britain. Half of them lived in London. Elsewhere in Europe, the number of immigrants from outside Europe was much, much smaller. This gradually began to change in the two decades preceding World War I, when the number of people of non-European origin in Europe began to rise sharply. Contrary to the frequent assumption, these migrants were certainly not just members of the colonial underclasses.

    A key gate of entry for pioneer migrants coming to Europe was very often the acquisition of academic qualifications in the context of colonialism: colonial rule could only function with a comprehensive apparatus of local civil servants working in administrative positions. With the increasing consolidation of colonial rule in the late nineteenth century, this army of collaborators increased dramatically. In the inter-war period, a growing number of local civil servants and officers, many of whom were educated in the major cities of Europe, occupied key positions at the top of colonial administrations. It is important to note that by no means all educational migrants from the colonies returned to their native countries.

    The period of decolonisation after the end of the Second World War did nothing to stem the tide of educationally motivated migration. Many former colonial powers saw education migration from the now formally independent states as an opportunity to bind future leaders to the former colonial power and, with their help, to allow the former colonial rulers to continue to exert an influence on the politics, economy, society and culture of the new states. Consequently, the training of colonial collaborators not only resulted in a key channel for migration to Europe, it was much more the case that specific patterns of global educational migration developed, patterns that in some cases still have an impact today and frequently led to permanent residencies in Europe. In 1949-50, for example, there were 2,000 students from sub-Saharan colonies in France. Three years later, this number had doubled. By the end of the decade, the figure had doubled again, to approximately 8,000. Approximately one-tenth of all pupils at higher-level schools in these regions in the 1950s continued their education in France. As a continuation of this tradition, French universities in the academic year 2000/2001 recorded approximately 30,000 students from sub-Saharan Africa alone – one-fifth of all foreign students in the country.

    Shipping was another early gate of entry for migrants from outside Europe. From the end of the nineteenth century onwards, the merchant navies of Europe, which grew rapidly in the course of globalisation, began recruiting Asian and African men with increasing frequency to do physically strenuous work below deck that put a strain on the health. These men reached the harbour cities of Europe, where the first tiny seeds of African and Asian settlement were sown both before and after the First World War. For example, starting in the late nineteenth century, sailors of the Kru ethnic group from West Africa became part of the populations of Liverpool, London and Cardiff, and maintained their links with shipping until the 1970s. In the 1880s, the merchant navy began recruiting firemen in British India. Soon several hundred of them were working in British ports or earning their money in the low-wage sectors of the textile industry. Chinese sailors came to London, Hamburg or Rotterdam, and continued to work in the transport sector in these cities, or established the first Chinese bars and restaurants. The third group of Asians, Africans or West Indians who became pioneer migrants in Europe were the soldiers recruited by the colonial powers for the theatres of war in Europe during the First and Second World Wars. Several thousand of them remained in Europe once the fighting had stopped.

    However, it was only after the Second World War that real mass migration to the European continent began. This migration was stimulated above all by the process of decolonisation. The dissolution of Europe’s colonial empires after the Second World War led to a massive ‘remigration’ of European settlers to Europe. Furthermore, in the process of decolonisation, the migration of colonial collaborators to the former ‘mother countries’ was permitted for civil servants, soldiers or police officers who had supported colonial rule, or for people who were considered by the local population to be symbols of the extreme (political) inequality of colonial society. The end of the global empires of the Netherlands (in the late 1940s), France (in the 1950s and early 1960s) and Portugal (early 1970s) in particular resulted in major refugee movements and displacements. Between the end of World War II and 1980, a total of between five and seven million ‘Europeans’ returned to the European continent from the former colonies within the context of the decolonisation process. Many of them had neither been born in Europe nor ever lived there.

    After the end of colonial rule in Indochina and the start of the War of Independence in Algeria in 1954, France, for example, absorbed 1.8 million people within a decade who had been uprooted in the course of the decolonisation conflicts. On the basis of the size of the population of the ‘mother country’, immigration to Portugal in the course of decolonisation was even more comprehensive: starting in the autumn of 1973 and in the space of just one year, almost half a million ‘retornados’ came to Portugal from Portugal’s former territories in Africa (Mozambique, Angola, Cap Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe). Most immigrants came from Angola. In the mid-1970s, the ‘retornados’ accounted for almost 6% of the Portuguese population. The high level of migration that followed the dissolution of colonial territories resulted in a paradox in the history of European colonial expansion: the colonial empires of Europe were more present in the major cities of the continent after decolonisation than they ever were before.

    In addition, the major post-colonial migration of people from former colonies to Europe increased, because privileged gates of entry existed as a result of the continued close links between major cities in the former ‘mother countries’ and the states that had gained independence. Of all the major European countries of immigration, this was particularly true of France and Britain, but also of the Netherlands and Belgium. With the British Nationality Act of 1948, Britain offered all inhabitants of the colonies or the Commonwealth uniform nationality, free entry and job opportunities in Great Britain. This open regulation was gradually rescinded, starting in the 1960s.

    In Europe’s leading economic states, the number of immigrants from other parts of Europe had already risen sharply during the period of high industrialisation and agricultural modernisation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the period of economic reconstruction in the first thirty years after the end of World War II, which was characterised by their high rates of economic growth and strongly expanding labour markets, cross-border fluctuations in the workforce were much greater than before in the context of a specific migration regime. Western, central and northern Europe became the destinations of choice for migrants, most of whom came from countries bordering the Mediterranean.

    Prerequisite for migration: financial resources

    As the consolidation of the social interaction between and networking of people, societies, economies, and social systems, globalisation has fundamentally changed the world over the past half-millennium. Regions where processes of global networking were particularly dynamic are also very frequently centres of marked migration. After all, migration is part of and a characteristic of the consolidation of social interaction. It is the prerequisite for and a constituent of the networking of individuals and collectives. Furthermore, as a result of globalisation, migration flows contribute to transformation processes: they have changed the make-up of populations and modified economic and social structures, religious practices, or forms of artistic expression. In recent centuries, migration has been a key element of globalisation. It still is today, and is likely to remain so in the future too. The notion that in the past it was above all the particularly poor and needy who became migrants is a myth. The fact is that financial resources have always been a major prerequisite for the development of an individual migration project; formalities relating to emigration and immigration had to be paid for in the past too. On top of this there was the considerable cost of travel and transport. Moreover, agents or mediators generally had to be paid (and were expensive). In most cases, the migrant was not able to start a paid job immediately after arriving at his or her destination. In some cases, it was necessary to make initial investments; capital that the migrant had saved was used up, and money had to be borrowed. For the poorest of the poor, implementing a migration project such as this was always illusory. Countless studies prove that poverty was in the past a huge restriction on the ability to travel.

    In many cases, parts of the migration history of a collective (such as the transatlantic migration from Europe in the nineteenth century) are held up as evidence of the drive and daring of one’s own ancestors, while parts of the history of immigration are held up as evidence of openness, tolerance and far-sightedness (for example the migration of the Huguenots or the ‘Poles of the Ruhr’). Rarely, however, do such stories feature in the current discussion about what migration is and what migration is understood to be. This debate is still dominated in a one-sided manner by the view that migration is the result of crises, catastrophes and deficits, and that its consequences are a threat to safety, prosperity, and societal and cultural homogeneity. This is why migration is seen as a risk that urgently requires restrictive political measures before and after the fact. Experiences of migration and (historical) academic findings about completed migration processes are not, as a rule, seen as a resource for helping society deal with the issue of migration in a more relaxed manner.
    This article was first published in September 2015 in the magazine Kursbuch 183 (Murmann-Publishers).

    Jochen Oltmer (b. 1965), teaches Modern History at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück. His most recent publication is Globale Migration. Geschichte und Gegenwart [Global migration: past and present].

    Translated by Aingeal Flanagan

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    June 2016

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