The Movement North

europe-crisisThe image here is linked to a terrific website, and a great resource for teachers, visually demonstrating the enormous movement of people into Europe over the past few years. You can click on any country and see its outgoing or incoming migrants.

Many thanks to Marjo Sassali at the normal school here in Jyväskylä for sharing this with me! It complements a lecture I attended the other day by Dr. Erka Caro, a post-doc researcher whose work focuses on migration from the Balkans into the EU.

I hoped to find a similar animation of the the post-1945 movement of peoples but without luck. One article, published in 1950 in Economic Geography, estimated the number of refugees in Germany alone at 14,000,000 in 1950. During the same period, during the partition of India and Pakistan, “one of the largest and most rapid migrations in human history” took place, “an estimated 14.5 million people migrated within four years.”

There was tremendous violence during both these migrations and, like today, most of the victims were utterly blameless people caught in unimaginable situations.

Dr. Caro points out that today’s mass migrations take place against a backdrop of greater migration in general. The number of people living and working away from their homelands has been growing consistently over the past decades and doesn’t show signs of stopping. Transportation is less expensive than ever, new technologies increase communication between people everywhere and make the world seem smaller. A third cause, Caro argues, is the decades-long export to developing nations of alluring images of lifestyles in the North, a “trigger” to those who now have the means to move in the direction of such promises.

From on March 16: “The UN Refugee Agency said today that more than one million people, mostly refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have now crossed in to Greece since the start of 2015.”

Human migration, usually individual, is a feature of globalization, like the flow of information or goods. And while nations have spent years negotiating free-trade treaties, there is not the same international cooperative effort given to managing and regulating the flows of the millions of people on the move.

So even as thousands pour into Macedonia from Syria and elsewhere, tens of thousands of Macedonians leave for Germany and other wealthier nations in the EU. (Macedonia is not a member of the EU but its citizens can travel to the Schengen countries without a visa. The fact that the EU does not yet even recognize the name “Macedonia” but calls the nation “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” suggests there is still some way to go.) Macedonia then is both a giving and receiving nation in terms of the flow of migrant people.

Here in Central Finland, most of the migrants are from Iraq. They are primarily young and male. Will they stay? Will they be sent elsewhere or back to Iraq? Will they be taught Finnish and allowed to join the mainstream of society? Or will they remain here and become an isolated community cut off from the social welfare state?

According to Dr. Caro, seeing the Macedonians in Germany as temporary migrants who will automatically leave when their time there is over is not a usable alternative. Since World War II, short-term migration plans, whether in the US, Germany, or Australia, have not led to the outcomes policy-makers hoped. What to do? Even encouraging economic growth in the less developed nation might create more outmigration as it becomes more affordable.

Finland’s migrants come not for economic opportunity but to flee violent conflict. I am very curious to see which choices the Finns make as they confront a new era of immigration and a likely re-definition of what it means to be “Finnish.”


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