Human migration over the centuries –How it has reshaped the world (Part 1)
Perhaps the earliest mass migration of human beings started in 2000 BCE when large masses of people began to move from the Central Asian region to settle in the areas we see as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh today. These people carried their skills related to community living and agriculture that blossomed when the ancient cities like Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were established. The Indo-Aryan race that many in North India today proudly claim to be the descendants of was gifted with skill, valor, and intellectual ability.
In later periods, large groups of intrepid human beings have been crisscrossing the world, mainly in search of better living conditions. Hordes of Europeans made their journey of life when they headed to America. This mixture of British, French, Germans, Italians, Poles, Dutch, and Danes settled down in the virgin land of America and built it as a foremost industrial power through their ingenuity and dexterity.
Large scale migration of human being, however, not been voluntary always. Religious persecution (Jews in Hitler’s Germany, partition of countries (Hindus leaving Pakistan, and Muslims leaving India after partition), practice of slavery (Africans ferried to America and Europe), Internal strife (Syrians and Afghans leaving for Europe) are just a few examples of extraneous factors uprooting people from their lands and making them flee for life. The large scale exodus of poor people from impoverished South American countries which President Trump blocked through heavy-handed legislation evokes pity, but so long as acute economic disparity exists in the world between countries, migration of poor people to richer nations can’t be stopped.
A case in point is the daredevil attempts of a large number of Africans to leave for Europe through the sea route at great peril to their lives. Economic distress fuels such illegal migration.
In recent years, large scale migration people has been adversely looked upon by the host countries. The Syrian refugees are unwanted guests in Europe, and Trump’s America has closed its southern borders to human caravans coming from poor countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador etc. In India, refugees from Bangladesh have become the burning political issue, and a few right wing parties have formed governments in countries like Hungary, and Poland on the back of strident local opposition to Arab refugees.
Despite such widespread resentment, an unbiased scrutiny of the pros and cons of admitting emigrants clearly points to the fact that the host countries generally benefit from migration. In the U.S., low-end jobs such as those in slaughter houses, sewage treatment facilities, construction workers, janitors etc. are all done by illegal immigrants from Latin American countries. High-end jobs in healthcare, Information Technology, scientific research, academics etc. are taken up by Chinese and Indian immigrants.
When high-caliber professionals leave the country to settle elsewhere, their country of origin loses heavily. The host country gets highly talented personnel without spending a penny for their education and training. Such ‘brain drain’ hemorrhages the talent pool of the poorer countries, and buttresses the economy of the rich host countries.
Quite often, politicians say that the migrants are stealing jobs from locals. To some extent, it is true, but the economy of the host country generally benefits, because the migrants provide cheap labour.
There are exceptions too. The Rohingya refugee crisis erupted because of the highhandedness of the Myanmar government. These impoverished people fled in all directions for succor, but most countries closed their doors to them. Bangladesh allowed them in, albeit grudgingly. Bangladesh is not such an affluent country to take in and rehabilitate hundreds and thousands of refugees. Indonesia, Malaysia were shamelessly indifferent to the plight of these fellow Muslim refugees.
Israel is another peculiar case of discrimination of refugees. It welcomes Jews from all lands, especially from Russia where Jews faced hostility and prejudice, but when it came to taking in Jews from North Africa, Israel turned its face away. The reason obviously was the skin colour.
Thus, the subject if migration of human beings is complex. Nonetheless, it would be pertinent here to highlight some benign features of human migration.
Europeans were adventure-loving, risk-taking seafarers. No wonder, British, French, Portuguese, and Dutch sailors made daring voyages across seas and set up colonies in far-off Africa, Asia, and Australia. Thus, European language, literature, science and technology, trade practices proliferated around the world.
Britain benefited the most from its outward looking, esurient, and wily merchant class who brought gargantuan wealth to their homeland.
Britain’s overseas assets were just 700 million pounds in 1870. By 1914, this figure had zoomed almost six-fold to reach 4000 million pounds. Britain had become an economic power house by then. The profits were so large that the risks of taking large loans for overseas investments appeared minimal. This happy position emboldened British merchants to take big risks and expand their overseas trading operations ignoring the risks. Britain invested in railways, plantations, mining ventures, industries in its far flung colonies, and notwithstanding some defaults here and there, the aggressive investment spree paid off handsomely. Britain began to amass wealth at a phenomenal pace. By 1900, Britain had sizeable assets in India, Australia, North America, Brazil, Indonesia—places where Britons could call the shots. By 1900, the Americas had 40% of British overseas holdings.
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Part 2 will be posted in a week.