Migration

    Global Migration – Migration in Europe

    Ben Plefka: aus der Serie 'Räume der Begegnung' 2002/2003. Copyright: edition Körber-Stiftung, Hamburg 2003
    Ben Plefka: aus der Serie 'Räume der Begegnung' 2002/2003. Copyright: edition Körber-Stiftung, Hamburg 2003
    Europe has economic and political ties with the whole world. In terms of its geographic location, it is the western extremity of the Eurasian continent. Its people are a migrating species. These three characteristics alone explain why Europe is right at the heart of international migration movements.

    Europeans can be found in almost every corner of the world, whether it be as tourists, business people, or emigrants and their descendents. Likewise, people from almost every corner of the world can be found in Europe. The world is growing ever closer; distances are becoming relative. The world is on the move politically, geographically, and physically. New migration systems and channels have developed and new patterns and types are emerging. The migration of people corresponds to the flow of information, capital, and goods. However, these movements are not one-way; in principle, they are bidirectional. Migration is both a prerequisite for and a consequence of globalisation. That said, only very small numbers of people migrate over large distances – from one continent to another, for example – or for extended periods of time, such as for life. Just like the great waves of European emigration which saw over 60 million people move to America and Australia, long-term, long-distance migration is the exception rather than the rule. Most people migrate within the borders of a state, in other words from one town or city to another. Most of those who migrate across international borders only move to a neighbouring country or region. This is why migration to Europe is mainly interregional migration: for example from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, within Scandinavia, or around the Mediterranean. Moreover, most people only migrate for short periods of time. The most frequent form of migration is holidaymaking. Other popular forms of short-term migration include business trips, university studies abroad, or a stint as an au pair. Whether in the United States or in Europe, temporary migration is the most frequent type of migration. Nowadays, most people who go to other countries to work do so for a limited period of time only: for months rather than years. It is possible that they come more frequently, but they stay for shorter periods. Simmel’s bon mot ‘People come today and stay tomorrow’ no longer applies. It would be more accurate to say that ‘People come today and leave again tomorrow’. Migration can be a plausible survival tactic: people migrate to flee persecution and to escape the poverty trap. Migration is also an economic tactic: people migrate in search of the place where they can get the best possible remuneration for their work. Migration can be a form of protest: ‘I protest against the conditions in the place where I was born; I’m not going accept them any longer, I’m leaving.’ Migration is the consequence of the uneven distribution of available wealth in the world. Migration is the expression of lifelong learning; migrants gain experience abroad.

    But migration also means the migration of knowledge and this is why there has been an increase in the migration of specialists in all conceivable directions. However, it can happen that legal regulations conflict with people’s aspirations, and when this happens migrants often operate outside the law. Migration is an expression of social change; it contributes to change within the states and regions involved. Migration itself is also subject to change. As a result of migration, the populations of Europe are continually being enhanced by people from other regions and, therefore, change their composition. Europe, once a continent of emigration, has become a continent of immigration. States that traditionally supplied ‘guest workers’ – Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Austria too are today themselves home to new ‘guest workers’ from places like south-eastern Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. States like Poland, Hungary, or Turkey are now countries of emigration and immigration in equal measure. For example, there are probably just as many Ukrainians  if not more  working in Poland as there are Poles working in Germany. Migration is continually changing direction and, as the history of Europe shows, it can even be completely reversed. One of the most striking paradoxes of all is the fact that migration is generally a cause of great concern despite the fact that it has made a huge contribution to Europe’s status as one of the most affluent regions on the planet. (...)

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    First published in German in the catalogue to the exhibition Projekt Migration, published in DuMont Literatur und Kunstverlag, Köln 2005.

    Franck Düvell
    is a social scientist who specialises in the issue of migration. He currently lectures at the University of Bremen.

    Translated by Aingeal Flanagan

    June 2006

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Fikrun wa Fann

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