Migration Habits of Humans
Migration is as common a biological factor as exists in the world. Birds are known to migrate over thousands of miles, sometimes even over open ocean, to get back to prime nesting sites. Possibly the longest migration occurs when the leatherback sea turtle migrates from the southern coasts of South America to the frigid northern waters of the Asian Bering Strait. These biological migrations occur yearly, but humans are much more circumspect in their migrations.
Humans used to migrate with their various food sources, to reach warmer temperatures or just to leave behind a land that had become unlivable. People still migrate for these reasons. Because people are able to stay in the same place more readily now, movement more guarded now than it once was. That is why the question is often asked by governments and researchers, “Why do people migrate?” This question along with types of migration and the many effects of migration are considered in this essay.
People migrate, to some degree at least, because they can. The saying is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Well, as far as migration is concerned, people migrate because they see greener pastures somewhere else, and they are able to make the journey. Peter Stalker, in his book “The Work of Strangers: A Survey of International Labour Migration,” that “Attempts to answer such questions have generally taken one of two broad approaches: the individual or the structural.” He goes on to say that individuals will migrate because earn more money and have better job security if they move. For the structural side of the argument;
“people’s fates [are] determined ultimately by the circumstances they face. Everyone moves within structures, social, economic and political, which shape their lives — “pushing” them from their homes and “pulling” them toward their new destinations. Structural explanations might involve population pressures, for example, or unemployment, or the influence of international media” (Stalker 86).
These structural changes seem to be the main reason that people have left a home or a family behind and moved. Prior to World War II it became apparent to many European Jews that they would be harshly persecuted by the new governments taking shape in central Europe if they stayed. They believed that they could either leave or die. Therefore, many people of Jewish heritage moved from their ancestral homes to new ones in the safer countries, such as England and the United States, to the west. This migration was structural in origin. However, when the Irish people faced the great devastations of their staple crop, potatoes, many moved across the Atlantic Ocean to America. This could be considered both individual and structural. The people were facing death (structural), but they individually realized that they could better themselves in the U.S. (individual). Thus, migration usually turns on one of two forces, but many times both explanations can come into play.
A second question that someone could ask is “What types of human migration are there?” The answer to this can be broad based on who is answering the question. It can be internal migration, external migration, emigration, immigration, population transfer (also called either involuntary or forced migration), impelled migration (also called reluctant or imposed migration), step or chain migration (National Geographic). Internal is also called intracontinental migration in many cases and involves people moving within the borders of a nation. In the old USSR, people would often be compelled by the government to move because they were needed, as laborers, elsewhere (Grandstaff 27). External migration can also be thought of as intercontinental migration. These are people who have moved across the Bering land bridge in ancient times or from Europe to the United States in more modern ones. People often are subjected to forced migration because they are taken from their homeland and transported to another place. The best example of this in the history of the United States is when native Africans were forced to leave their home continent and travel to the western hemisphere to work as chattel slave laborers (Indra 12). The United States has also engaged in impelled, internal migration. The Cherokees were forced to move from their homes in the Appalachian Mountains to what was then called Indian Territory and is now largely Oklahoma. The infamous “trail of tears” is part of that sad chapter in American history. Step migration happens when an individual, or family, moves in various steps to a final destination. This often happened during the great depression to families who were caught in the Midwestern dust bowl. Chain migration occurs when a member of a family moves somewhere, then brings other members of the family to the new place of residence as they can afford to. Many European families first came to the United States in this manner, and central American families are still migrating this way today.
Migration, then, can happen in many different ways and involve the movement of small or large groups of people. Individuals can want to move to the new land, or they can be compelled by some force to make the move. Whatever the reasons there can be barriers to the move.
It used to be that migrations were stalled because of physical or geographical barriers. Water was one obstacle that presented many issues for people migrating from one place to another. But, it was easily defeated by better transportation methods. Deserts were another form of geographical boundary that plagued people for centuries. However, they found ways to combat with better transportation methods and ways of carrying water with them. Mountains, forests and other people also created barriers that were difficult for people wishing to move. But, they were all overcome.
In the present world, the barriers to migration are not so physical. Often it is a policy that prevents migration, or the threat of disease and quarantine, or the group wishing to migrate could be financially unable to leave a devastated region. Barriers can even be mental. A people can become so beaten down that they believe that their present state is the best that they will ever do. When a group of people wants to migrate to a different part of the world, national borders, which did not exist before, can be the biggest deterrent.
However, there are times when migration is not only allowed, but it is encouraged. When a country does not have the labor force it needs to bring in its harvests, people will often be allowed to enter the country on temporary visas. Other times, one caring group of people sees the devastation that has happened in another area of the world, and takes people from that region into its own country as refugees. Incentives to migration can range from easy access to monetary rewards for migrating. It all depends on why the country is encouraging the migration.
The overall effects of migration are difficult to quantify (Sjaastad). Migration can have many benefits to a nation. During the last half of the nineteenth century, the United States experienced a boom in immigration that increased the population by tens of thousands each year. Initially, many of these people would settle in the coastal cities where they originally landed, but that caused many issues for the people of those cities. So, the immigrants were encouraged to move farther inland. Germans, and other Slavic peoples, settled the upper Midwest. Many Asian groups fanned out across California and the Pacific Northwest. The benefits for the entire country were tremendous. The migrants integrated into the fabric of the country and benefitted it by increasing the total workforce, and adding areas of expertise that were lacking.
Of course, there can be negatives when migrants enter a new region also. Cuba allowed many people to migrate to the United States in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, but most of the people who were allowed to go to the states had criminal pasts. These migrants cause many problems for communities in southern Florida. Migration can also strap the resources of a country (Sjaastad). When a large group of refugees moves across a national border to flee oppression, they can greatly tax food and energy resources that a country needs for their own citizens.
Thus, it is easy to see that migration can happen for many reasons, come in many forms, and have good or bad outcomes for the receiving area. Migration has been a global fact for many millennia, and it will continue until the earth is equitable all the way around.
Grandstaff, Peter J. Interregional Migration in the U.S.S.R. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 1980. Print.
Indra, Doreen Marie. Engendering Forced Migration: Theory and Practice. New York:
Berghahn Books, 1999. Print.
National Geographic. “What is Human Migration?” National Geographic Expeditions. Web.
Sjaastad, Larry A. “The Costs and Returns of Human Migration.” The Journal of Political Economy, 70.5 (1962): 80-93. Print.
Stalker, Peter. The Work of Strangers: A Survey of International Labour Migration.
Geneva: International Labour Organization, 1997. Print.
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