Migration can be defined as “a process of moving, either across an interna- tional border, or within a State. Encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people, and economic migrants.”1 Migration is certainly not a recent phenomenon; on the contrary, it has been part of the human history since its very beginning. People have migrated from one continent to the other, from country to country or internally, inside the same country. Currently, IOM states that there are about one billion migrants around the world. This number includes 214 million international migrants and 740 mil- lion internally displaced persons. The purpose of this paper is to provide a historical overview on the phenom- enon of migration from a RCRC perspective. The importance of migration throughout history will be illustrated by examples, followed by a discussion on the RCRC Movement work in the area of migration, which commenced with the creation of the Movement and has been strongly enhanced through the years.
Finally, we briefly discuss current priorities in addressing migration globally. It is evident that migration has played a pivotal role throughout the years in shaping the world as we know it today. The phenomenon of migration has been indispensable to human histories, cultures, and civilizations. For example, the connection between religion and migration is a cross-cutting issue throughout the history of major religions such as Christianity (e.g. the spread of Catholicism by Portuguese and Spanish during the 11th and 12th centuries), Islam (e.g. the first and second migration during Prophet Mohamed’s time), and Judaism (e.g. the migration of Jewish from Eastern to Western Europe and overseas, and to the United States of America during the 19th). Religion has been playing a fundamental role in both triggering massive population movements but also in influencing the lives and conditions of migrants in their displacement. Today, the intersection between religion and migration or what is called ‘transnational religion’ is at the heart of contemporary migration debates.
During the Age of Discovery (15th- 17th century) many Europeans, with the Portuguese and Spanish leading the way, undertook maritime travels and explored the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. This transoceanic migration led to their discovery of new lands, the expansion of trade relations and the development of the economies of both the countries of origin and destina- tion. Commercial and strategic factors influenced migration in that period as many European countries were competing to colonize strategic regions and territories. At the same time, in order to tackle labour shortages, the slave trade was introduced at various times throughout history3, and subsequently abolished in the mid 19th century.
A second wave of labour came from Europe, especially England, Spain and Portugal, to what was then called “the new world” (i.e. USA, Canada, Australia, and southern Africa). A great wave of migration subsequently took place in central Europe after World War I when populations resettled after the creation of many new States, especially following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Another migration period of note was from about 1935 until after World War II when population movements occurred inside Europe. Migration at that time began with the expansion of Hitler’s Germany and later through forced or inevitable evacuations with people attempting to escape from the war and the relocations which followed in its wake.
Space does not allow for a full history of Migration on our planet, but it is impor- tant to recognise that the phenomenon has been observed everywhere in the world, throughout time. Often for the same reasons as those just mentioned. Migrants have been essential for the development of many modern states, have shaped labour dynamics around the globe and have been a cornerstone for the global economy. In recent years, discussions4 have taken place on the linkage between migra- tion and development in a number of forums and especially since the UN General Assembly High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development (GFMD) in 20065. Migration is a phenomenon, whose benefits can be maximized when countries of origin form dialogues and partnerships with countries of destina- tion.
Mexico, for example, as the 2010 Chair of the GFMD focused on improving the collaboration between countries of origin and destination and introduced the concept of shared responsibility, collective benefits and partnerships. The linkages between migration and development are now recognised as being strong and diverse. However, there is an inherent vulnerability in being a migrant, which can be more problematic in some situations than others. Migrants, by definition, are outside their places of habitual residence’ and often countries of origin (many times also away from their families), in a place where they might not understand the language and/or culture. They usually lack their familiar or community support mechanisms and can be exposed to racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Note: We forget, one of the men who most dramatically impacted human civilization in the last decade was the son of a Syrian who migrated to the U.S. in 1954. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.Perhaps you are reading this article on a device invented by him… His name was Steve Jobs.