We use cookies for site personalization and analytics. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

A Journey


A journey
through time

[image, unknown]

1 First steps
Homo Erectus was the first human to set foot outside Africa, about one-and-a- half million years ago. Because they discovered how to use fire, these people could move north and live in Europe's colder climate. But it was Homo Sapiens, the first fully modern human, who really kicked off global migration around 50,000 years ago.
Homo Sapiens' lives were dictated by the movement of ice sheets. In periods of intense cold, water would freeze at the poles and sea levels would lower to reveal land between the continents. Australia and Papua New Guinea formed one territory which was linked with the Philippines and Indonesia. Using boats, people crossed these waters more than 40,000 years ago from mainland South East Asia to become the first inhabitants of Australia. Another land-bridge from Korea allowed the colonization of Japan. Further north, East Asia was joined to Alaska. Hot on the heels of animal herds such as giant bison, horses, sloths, moose, large cats and mammoths humans crossed over from Eurasia to America. Within a few thousand years, they had travelled from the top of North America to the southern tip of Chile. By the end of the the Ice Age, 12,000 years ago, humans had migrated further than any other animal ever known. 1

[image, unknown]

2 Itchy feet
Greed and desire spurred leaders and merchants to travel far from their homelands. The Greeks, Romans and Indians were among the first to create vast empires, stretching over sea and land. Merchants used the power of the empire to take from, or trade with, all parts of the world, spreading Christianity and Islam along the way. Traders from the Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea, started sailing around the Pacific in 1700 BC in search of untapped resources. Polynesians arrived in small sea-craft in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 700 years later, in the last stage of long and dangerous Pacific Ocean voyages. 2
Once the Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean in 1498, they dominated trade and migration. In 1500 they demanded that the ruler of Calicut, the main spice market, expel all Muslims and allow the Portuguese to seize ships and goods found at sea. They then captured Mozambique, Goa, Malacca and Hormuz. They took Brazil and had a base in China. 2 The Spanish also pursued their aspirations through the conquest of the Philippines. By the 1560s Spain had established itself in Mexico, Peru and Chile. 1

[image, unknown]

3 Shuffling soles
The international trade in slaves began from the shores of the Black Sea. Men were sent to serve in the armies of Egyptian sultans, and women especially blonde Circassians were dispatched into domestic service or prostitution in Muslim and Christian areas of the West. In the 1440s Portuguese sailors began to bring African slaves back to Europe.
Around 15 million people were taken from Africa as slaves and shipped to Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean and North America. Most were gathered from the 20 principal slave markets dotted along the western coastline from Senegal in the north to Angola in the south. Today an estimated 40 million people in North and South America and the Caribbean are descended from those slaves. 3

[image, unknown]

4 Down at heel
Industrialization and competition from the colonies reduced jobs available while Europe's population continued to grow. From 1846 to 1939 around 59 million people left Europe. Their destinations were: US 38 million, Canada 7 million, Argentina 7 million, Brazil 4.6 million and 2.5 million to Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and South Africa. British or Irish emigrants travelled to colonial countries, the Spanish went to Argentina and the Portuguese to Brazil. But people from all emigrant countries headed to the US 18 million people became new US citizens between 1890 and 1920. 4
Many people from Southern colonies became indentured workers they laboured under fixed contracts with conditions little better than slavery. From 1830 onwards at least 12 million and possibly more than 37 million people were dispatched to the British, French, Dutch and German colonies. China was the largest source of these workers in 1900 around 30,000 'coolies' as they were known, were found in mines in one district of Borneo, South East Asia, alone.
In the South Pacific agents known as 'blackbirders' used deceit and violence to recruit men for work. Around 280,000 Melanesians and Micronesians became kanakas, workers exported to countries in the region. Conditions for indentured workers were harsh 8.5 per cent of all Indian workers who arrived in Jamaica in 1869 died within a year. 3

[image, unknown]

5 Goose-stepping
Before the First World War migrants seldom had to jump hurdles to get over national borders people were free to travel through Europe and sometimes overseas without a passport. But as xenophobia and then war broke out, control of migrants was seen as essential to preserve the 'character'of Western nations. Many countries became opposed to an increase in the number or diversity of immigrants some on openly racist grounds, such as Hitler's Germany. In Britain, where 120,000 Jews settled between 1875 and 1914, Jewish migrants became the focus of racist marches which led to the restrictive Aliens Act of 1914. 5 Countries considered immigrant-friendly also succumbed to this pressure the United States banned Chinese and Japanese workers and the racist Klu Klux Klan became popular by promising to stamp out Catholics, Jews and immigrants. Migration slowed substantially in both the US and Australia during the years between the World Wars. 3

[image, unknown]

6 Treading gently
After the horrors of war, human rights (including the rights of refugees and migrants) became a potent international issue. But the principle of national control and manipulation of immigration had gained ground. Rich countries feared a stampede and remained closed to migrants.
The formation of new countries after the Second World War shifted people as well as borderlines the partition of India and Pakistan involved the movement of 14 million people and the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East displaced 780,000 Palestinians. 4
After the mid-1950s governments realized that to spur economic growth they would need cheap workers. South Africa recruited many temporary labourers from countries in the region. 3 The oil-producing states of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Libya were destinations for many contract workers from nearby Asian and Arab countries. Germany was one of the European states which used a guestworker program the government developed migrant-labour agreements which allowed in workers on a temporary basis.
Other countries sought permanent immigrants to kick-start the economy. Australia actively recruited European settlers and received over two million immigrants between 1945 and 1964. 4

[image, unknown]

7 Booted out
As governments became obsessed with economics, migrants became increasingly valued in terms of their monetary worth. Competition for jobs in the most-developed countries increased after the 1970s and immigration declined. The tables were turned when countries which had been traditional sources of emigrants such as Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal became the destinations for immigrant workers from other European and North African states in the 1980s.
The Cold War also affected governments' stance on immigration. The Soviet Union restricted emigration, while those who left the USSR were easily admitted as refugees to the US and other Western countries.
In the 1990s Europe tightened its borders. Ethnocentric and racist right-wing politics rose once again in this region and in other parts of the world. 5 Ethnic minorities became scapegoats for national social and economic problems and potential migrants were stopped in their tracks.
Today while money and goods flow freely, people cannot. But people have moved since the beginning of time. And the pressures to move poverty and inequality are still alive and kicking.

1 Gregory Parker (ed), The World: An Illustrated History (Times Books/Channel Four, 1986).
2 Jerome Burne (ed), Chronicle of the World (Longman, 1989).
3 Peter Stalker, The Work of Strangers: A survey of international migration (International Labour Organization, 1994).
4 International Organization for Migration website http://www.iom.ch/.
5 Susan Greenberg (ed), Mindfield: Hate Thy Neighbour; the dividing lines of race and culture (Camden Press, 1998).


Contents - this Issue     Magazines Home

New Internationalist issue 305 magazine cover This article is from the September 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Subscribe today »


Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop