Population Shift or Refugee Crisis?

One of the biggest news items filling print and electronic media for most of the 21st century has been about the continual movement of refugees leaving Africa and the Middle East and making their way for Europe and other parts of the world. These refugees might all be leaving their native countries, but that is all they really have in common.


The migrants can be divided into political refugees, those fleeing from war torn countries, economic refugees and pseudo refugees taking advantage of current events to gain entry into selected countries. Intercontinental population shift or migration from one country or continent to another has been taking place for thousands of years. The increasing populations and more efficient means of transport merely encourages more people to seek a better life elsewhere.


A World Bank/International Monetary Fund report from 7 October 2015 says that large scale migration from poorer countries to richer regions of the world will be a permanent feature of the global economy for decades to come. The report says that the world is experiencing a major population shift that will reshape economic development for many years into the future.


Looking at the African scene where politically inspired violence is rife, the numbers of people displaced as a result runs into millions. Revolution in the Democratic Republic of Congo has displaced 5.5 million people with refugees fleeing to Rwanda and Uganda. The conflict in Darfur in Sudan has resulted in another 2.5 million displaced people, many who are now trying to escape into Ethiopia and Egypt as refugees. Ethiopia with its own infrastructure problems has become the host to 700,000 refugees from the war torn regions of East Africa. Kenya in turn hosts almost 600,000 refugees that have fled the conflict in Somalia seeking safety and refugee status elsewhere.


The Middle East which is experiencing simultaneous sectarian and religious inspired violence in Yemen, Iraq and Syria and to a lesser degree in Turkey and Lebanon is coupled with its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea as an attractive route to Europe. A BBC report on 18 February 2016 said that 1 million people applied for refugee status in Europe in the period October 2014 to October 2015, the bulk of them from Syria and Afghanistan. Besides this figure, another 2 million are estimated to have entered the European Union countries illegally in search of employment and a better life. With no apparent let up in the violence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war torn areas in the region, the flow can be expected to increase.


The major migrant routes are from North Africa across the Mediterranean to Italy and across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Many of these people are forced to pay large sums of money to traffickers who offer to ship them across the ocean, very often in un-seaworthy boats. This cost the lives of almost four thousand migrants as a result of drowning at sea in 2015. Action is being taken by the European nations to police the ocean routes in order to reduce the number of illegal migrants entering Europe where the influx of foreigners is drastically affecting the demographics of certain countries.


Hungary which is on the European periphery saw its population grow by over 2% in a five month period in 2015 which is creating a population upheaval. Greece is similarly affected and with the economic crisis that country has been experiencing, the additional burden could take the economy to the tipping point. Because the vast majority of migrants bring with them a culture and religions that are very different to those of the host countries, this too causes problems for the hosts, as many of the new arrivals are either unwilling or unable to assimilate into the local population.


Another cause for concern in many of the host countries is the fear that terrorist elements are able to enter in the guise of refugees. Several terrorist related incidents costing many lives have occurred already, particularly in France and Britain where imported terrorism appears very likely. Dealing with this particular problem while maintaining high humanitarian standards makes the hosting of refugees even more difficult.


The interesting question of course whether this migration of people to Europe is a something new or the continuation of an age old process. People have been moving across Africa into Europe and Asia for thousands of years in the search for food and a livelihood. Conversely, history tells us the Phoenicians who occupied the area now known as Lebanon were the result of the arrival of the Sea People who came from areas of Southern Europe and the Aegean. This also shows that the population shift some three to four thousand years ago was in the opposite direction to the current migration.


The reality seems to be that the current wave of refugees is merely a part of the age old human migratory pattern. The much larger global population coupled with more efficient modern means of transport results in larger number of people moving around, more often and over greater distance. The important factor going into the future is that the different ethnic and religious groups that are being thrown together will have to learn to live together and become tolerant of the religions and cultures of others, particularly their host nations. The alternative to this will be xenophobic attacks on foreigners by groups of local inhabitants trying to protect their own cultures from what they perceive to be a foreign invasion.


The world has lived through these upheavals several times in its history and no doubt that population shift will continue into the future and there is no doubt that mankind will continue to survive and thrive as we have done previously.