Letter from America: Human Migration (Part 1)
Human beings have been on the move since the beginning of time. That is why what was once a single family has now become a family of nations, comprising some seven billion people, spread out on all the continents of the planet. People have historically moved from rural to industrialized urban areas in search of job and to better their economic conditions.
Migration can be both within and outside one’s own country. A migrant can be either a willing or an unwilling (forced) person. When it is for the latter reason, we often call them refugees. Thus we can establish two main simplified categories of migration: external and internal.
Internal migration can be due to a plethora of reasons including climatic, e.g., devastating effect on the ecosystem. Based on statistics, some 150 million people will be on the move because of climatic factor in the next 40 years (by 2050). Nomadic peoples across the planet have been engaged in seasonal internal migration for thousands of years. Hilly tribal people in certain parts of the world continue to move from one location to another in search of newer territories for their ‘dry’ cultivation.
Sometimes politics has played a great role in relocation of people from one part of a country to another. In places like Xinjiang – the Uighur territory in China’s western frontier – the Chinese government has been encouraging migration of Han Chinese to move to the territory so as to deliberately alter the demography of the region and deny granting of real autonomy to the persecuted Turkic speaking indigenous people. As a result of such a state sponsored relocation policy, the Uighurs are now a minority within their own territory. Both the Chinese and Indian governments have been accused of relocating Hindus and Han Chinese to the restive regions of Kashmir and Tibet, respectively, in obvious plans to alter regional demography. In the state of Assam in north-east India, the ruling Congress party has also been accused of playing politics with vote tally by encouraging internal migration of Bengalis and Biharis from nearby Indian states of West Bengal and Bihar, who are known to vote in big numbers for the party rather than for the separatist ethnic parties.
War and state persecution have also been major factors for internal relocation and migration.
What is, however, of interest to us is that no time in past history have so many people migrated than our time. Truly, migration has become a regular feature of our time with individuals living temporarily or permanently in countries that they were not born in.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrants, a “working migrant” is a “person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.” Similarly the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights has established the following categories for migrant/refugees and stateless people: (1) Persons who are outside the territory of the State of which they are nationals or citizens, are not subject to its legal protection and are in the territory of another State. (2) Persons who do not enjoy the general legal recognition of rights which is inherent in the granting by the host State of the status of refugee, naturalized person or other similar status. (3) Persons who do not enjoy either general legal protection of their fundamental rights by virtue of diplomatic agreements, visas or other agreements.
As can be seen it is quite difficult to define what constitutes a migrant and/or refugee how nation legislations may differ in accordance with their own interpretation of the terms. This difficulty has led United Nations to create a permanent commission regarding the question of human rights and the status of migrants and refugees. Unfortunately, while the United Nations might legislate and categorize who is or is not a migrant/refugee, it is all up to individual countries to legislate internally and in the case of totalitarian states human rights are usually breached with regards to those who are “foreign”.
In her article - The Why and the “Therefore” of Human Migration: A Brief Overview (Lives in Migration: Rupture and Continuity), Dr. Sue Ballyn of Barcelona University reviews questions like the factors that contribute to migration and the consequences thereof.
As to the factors that lead to migration are frequently referred to as “push” and “pull” factors. These are, to a large extent, self-explanatory. “Push” forces one from one’s homeland and “pull” attracts migrants offering, for example, opportunities not available in one’s homeland. Ballyn writes, “The “push” factors have not really changed that much since the human race began to spread across the planet. People have been driven to seek new “homelands” as a result of: famine, drastic climate change, poverty, civil war, wars between nation states, territorial annexation, imperial expansion, religious, racial, ethnic, political and gender persecution. The list is longer and any of those mentioned, together with others one might add, can be considered “forced migration”, which lies at the heart of the verb “push”. Individuals and collectives are impelled by circumstance to move away from their homeland in order to survive and many could and are classified as refugees, especially those seeking refuge from war torn areas, genocidal policies, and states where Human Rights are held in abeyance. However, forced migration can also connote the violent expulsion, taking violent in its whole range of meaning, of both an individual or community from their homeland."
Consider, e.g., the case of Chagos Islanders who were forcibly relocated to Mauritius by the British. The islands, numbering around sixty, were/are part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The reason for this ‘push’ migration, as noted by Ballyn, was to allow the construction of the Diego Garcia Airbase by the USA.
The people of Ocean Island (also known by its Kiribati name Banaba), one of the Kiribati Islands in Pacific Micronesia, were victims of overriding neo-colonialistic economic factors. There were ‘pushed’ out. As to the causes behind such forced migration, Ballyn writes, "The Banaba had something the rest of the world wanted and was going to get at whatever the cost to the people: phosphate. This devastating story of international greed at whatever price has its beginnings round about 1900 when the Pacific Islands Company Limited got the Banaban people to sign away the total right to phosphate mining to the British Company, later to become British Phosphate Commissioners under the joint ownership of the British, Australian and New Zealand Governments. The results of intensive mining, which includes the use of dynamite, have reduced the island’s subsoil structure to something like a honeycomb, or gruyere cheese. The surface cannot sustain buildings with foundations and the island’s ecosystem has been endangered. The removal of many of the Banaban people began in 1945 when the British Government relocated the majority to Rabi Island, thousands of miles away in Fiji. As the island became increasingly unstable further waves of migration followed to Rabi only a few returning once mining finished in 1979. It is now estimated that only some 200 people have returned to live on the island and the debate remains as to the weight of population the island could actually sustain. It has become, to all intents and purposes, inhabitable after thousands of years of human habitation."
Millions of the people across the globe have faced similar ‘push’ factors for constructing dams and barrages, and exploration activities related to energy resources – coal, oil and gas, and mineral resources when they were forcibly moved from their localities. Many of those victims were never compensated for the loss of their possessions.
Genocidal activities of eliminationist regimes have led to forced migration of millions of victims. Ballyn writes, “If we move back through history we will find multiple examples of violent expulsion of peoples from their homelands often going hand in hand with persecution and genocide. Another form of violent forced migration frequently accompanies agendas of imperial expansion.” She cites the example of how through British colonization of Australia in 1788, not only the indigenous people were slaughtered and forced to relocate from their ancestral homes, the former British convicts were forced to settle in the new colony. She also cites the examples South Africa and of Newfoundland, where the last native was shot in 1823.
Ballyn says, "South Africa before and during the apartheid era caused a massive removal of African peoples to black townships, while many leading opposition figures and freedom fighters were exiled within or deported from South Africa, tortured, executed or murdered. There is no end to the systematic dispossession and internal exile of Aboriginal peoples across the world from the time of the Greek empire to the neo-colonialism of the twenty first century." Not to be forgotten in this context (which is unfortunately overlooked from Ballyn’s analysis) is the case of establishment of the Zionist state of Israel, which has not only led to the exodus some 700,000 Palestinians but also an influx of many European and American Jews to the Holy Land. The apartheid structure of the Zionist state has also resulted into miserable living conditions for millions of Palestinians living within, who are relegated to the third or fourth class status.
Ballyn believes that “forced” migration is always either as a result of violence or the drive to survive.
- Asian Tribune -