World, Life

Migration: Ancient culture of seeking 'better life'

Migration today is covered as new phenomenon, yet it can be traced back to thousands of years

Ali Murat Alhas   | 15.12.2019
Migration: Ancient culture of seeking 'better life'

ANKARA 

The number of people migrating to other countries has skyrocketed in the past decades due to violence, armed conflicts, poor living conditions, unjust economics and natural disasters

Although a hot topic on today's global agenda, it actually has deep roots in human history dating back to tens of thousands of years.

According to the latest UN figures, the number of international migrants has climbed to 272 million, 51 million more compared to 2010, corresponding to some 3.5% of the global population.

Europe ranks as the first host continent with 82 million international migrants, followed by North America that hosts 59 million. Also, North Africa and West Asia hosts about 49 million migrants.

"Although the nations and nation-states emerged much more recently in the last few centuries, migration and human mobility have always existed with the same underlying motivation for tens of millennia since the earliest human groups," said Kadir Onur Unutulmaz, deputy director of Global Migration Research Center and an academic at the Social Sciences University of Ankara, pointing to the search "for a better life".

"Although we are talking about globalization as a recent phenomenon, there is archaeological evidence that trade and migration on a global scale existed tens of thousands of years ago,” said the migration expert who received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Oxford.

He went on to say that some people associated the concept of early migration to nomadic cultures, however, it was actually the agricultural revolution and move toward sedentary life that significantly boosted migration as the early-established cities were like “magnets” for outsiders seeking better living standards.

Dispelling popular belief

The academic underlined that migration was directly related to “human security”, whether it be a result of insecurities emerging out of financial troubles, poverty, famine, political and cultural concerns, oppressions, high crime rates, and violence; therefore, the migrants have sought to move to secure environments.

He emphasized that, unlike popular belief, the number of people displaced by natural or man-made disasters is much larger than the number of people driven out of their homes due to conflicts.

Although, the migration issue is viewed as troublesome across many parts of the world, it clearly brings an opportunity to improve human civilization as many migrants throughout the history brought new perspectives and fresh ideas to their new homes.

“One of the central forces that drove human civilization was migration,” he said. “Throughout the human history, migrants have brought new ideas, technologies, and cultures alongside wherever they went.”

Despite that migrants are not initially “welcomed with open arms and red carpets”, according to Unutulmaz, the resulting social dynamics have led to innovations, cultural progress as well as technological developments.

In today’s world, the migrants make a tremendous contribution in the economy, especially in developed and industrialized economies as labor force and entrepreneurs.

For instance, as in the case of Turkey, which has welcomed over 3.6 million Syrians under temporary protection status following the eruption of bloody civil war in 2001, the migrants brought financial development as well.

According to a report by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), Syrian entrepreneurs in Turkey employ 7% of their compatriots and contribute to the economy with export-oriented companies.

Aging population

Besides, given that some countries, especially in Europe, have been aging and their decreasing populations make them dependent on migrants.

According to a report issued by the European Commission in 2018, the population within the EU is projected to hit 520 million by 2070, meaning there would be an increase of only 9 million.

However, with such low fertility rates, the EU's working-age population will decrease significantly according to the report, dropping from 333 million (2016) to 292 million in 2070.

Unutulmaz warned that countries should be careful in importing large numbers of guest-workers or migrants across the globe and follow long-term policies instead of aiming to achieve overnight results.

"The well-known example of Germany needs to be remembered here," he said, referring to the period when the country imported a large number of guest-workers from Turkey in 1960s and 1970s but did not follow any integration policies that led to problems in future.

"Today, Germany is one of the countries that invests most heavily in integration policies around the globe and they are still paying for the decades that they didn’t start acting," he said.

When asked about how the host countries should tackle the rising tides of xenophobia and fascist narrative towards migrants, he said these subjects must be addressed in a clear manner.

"But it is very important to not label anybody expressing their concerns about migration as a xenophobe or a fascist," he said, and added: "Particularly in situations where mass movements of people take place in a short amount of time.”

He said governments play a pivotal role in the sense of tackling the anti-migration agenda and the core of this policy should be based on public relations.

“While it may be the case that some specific information might be too sensitive to share with the public, the public should not be left in the dark concerning their situation today or in the future,” he said.

In order to eliminate smear campaigns on alternative media outlets, mainstream media should provide people with accurate information, he said, adding people -- whether migrants or locals -- should be able express their concerns in an open manner.

He also stressed the “integration and harmonization” of migrants to host societies is an important aspect that would enable some sort of an emotional linkage between both migrants and locals.

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