After filling other continents, it is the turn of Europe to receive immigrants
Posted Friday, October 18 2013 at 01:00
Western media covers these tragedies in a manner suggesting that this is something unique to the present period and at no time do they ever make reference to the gruesome long experience of Europeans emigrating to other continents during the last several centuries.
For some time, now the Western media have been full of horror and tragic stories of hundreds of people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing from poverty, injustice, armed conflict and persecution in their countries. “Because of human misery, because of despair, for reasons of persecution in their home countries, these people have nothing else but to take an unseaworthy boat to a European haven,” said Volker Tuerk of the UNHCR as he called upon the European Union to halt overcrowded boats from leaving Northern African shores.
It is said that these migrants from Somalia, Eritrea, Ghana, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, etc., are driven by the search for better jobs and higher incomes to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea mainly to Italy as an entry point to Europe. In response, navy ships and planes have been deployed to rescue and prevent many more from certain death in over-loaded unseaworthy ships.
This is commendable but the Western media covers these tragedies in a manner suggesting that this is something unique to the present period and at no time do they ever make reference to the gruesome long experience of Europeans emigrating to other continents during the last several centuries.
The history of waves of emigrants from Europe to other continents show that the current tragedies in the Mediterranean, horrifying as they are, are nothing compared to what befell Europeans on their voyages across the Atlantic for several centuries. UNHCR figures show that nearly 22,000 migrants have arrived in southern Italy so far this year, a very sharp rise over last year’s total of 7,981. How does this compare to what happened in Europe? Large scale emigration from Europe took place during the European (Spanish, British, Russian, French, Portuguese) colonial empires period of the 17th to 19th centuries and continues to the present day.
For example, from 1815 to 1932, 60 million people left Europe to the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Siberia (now part of Russian Federation). By 1914, of the foreign born Argentinians, 12 per cent were Italians, the largest immigrant group. Travel by wind driven ships was always perilous as people waiting in ports, for the right winds, were often exposed to various diseases and in the three months it took to cross the Atlantic, in the 1700s, approximately 17 per cent died on the ships or shortly after disembarking. Sometimes the rate of survival was as low as 10 per cent until the arrival of steamships reduced crossing time of the Atlantic to about 10 days and thus also reducing exposure to disease in ports and ships.
There have been other tragic mass migrations, with low survival rates, from Africa and Asia but originated by Europe such as the African slave trade, which by the time it ended, up to 15 million Africans from countries between Senegal and Angola had been transported to the Americas. The slaves from the African eastern coast and its hinterland went to what is now the Middle East. In addition, from around 1860 to almost mid 20th Century, millions of indentured labourers mainly from China and India were taken to many parts of the world - the Americas, Africa, Europe and the Far East (Burma, Malaya and Borneo).
Certain factors trigger migration, such as industrialisation, which results in migration of people from the rural to the urban areas. Whenever people shift to over-crowded cities, many poor young people seek better lives elsewhere. This is what happened in Europe and this is happening in the rest of the world - now enticed by what people see on TV and films.
There are other causes such as agricultural failures or famines (the 19th century potato blight in Ireland) or civil strife and failed states. The reduced birth rates and the consequential ‘graying’ of European populations mean that Europe needs migrant labour. Many European countries have reached the minimum dependency rate (number of working people (20-64) needed to support the elderly (65 +) below which there may not be enough working adults to finance public services or to pay for the pensions of the older generation. Almost 20 per cent of the populations of Europe are more than 65 years old. It seems that rather than attempt to keep immigrants out, Europe must attract more but orderly immigration.
Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP. email@example.com