As hundreds of thousands pour into Europe to escape war-torn areas, Associate Professor of Sociology Winfred Avogo explores the shift in population amid the turmoil.
The international news, these days, is full of gruesome stories about waves of migrations from the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia to Europe. Thousands of migrants, who have made the journey to Europe, are stranded in dehumanizing conditions in railway stations and make-shift camps, some even try to walk the unthinkable distances to their destinations, while hundreds, including toddlers, unfortunately die at sea. These headlines however, are no coincidence and are predictable.
First, as populations grow faster and unevenly in different areas of the world—mainly in the “south,” the pressure to migrate to where there are jobs and greater opportunity—mainly in the “north,” increases. Like the weather, high-pressure winds move to low-pressure systems. This was precisely the pattern of migration at the beginning of the European expansion. By the time of the industrial revolution, and aided by a precipitous decline in mortality, Europe was crowded and many responded by migrating to unused lands in the global “south” to start new lives.
Today’s migration streams, although similar, are a bit different; they are increasingly more impelled. Due to war, many risk the arduous journey for their safety and survival. The United Nations estimates that refugees in the world conservatively number more than 43 million. Many of them are drawn from U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and civil wars in Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Nigeria.
Second, not well understood are the long-term consequences for both migrants and for receiving populations. Migrants generally come from relatively high fertility in the “south” to very low fertility in the “north.” This has the potential to—over time—make a disproportionate contribution to population growth in the “north” as seen in the U.S., especially in southwestern states. Not only does the foreign-born population alter the ethnic diversity and composition of the “north” but it also increases the likelihood of prejudice, discrimination, and violence against migrants, especially in cities, where most migrants go to look for jobs.
As the strain on local resources is exacerbated due to stagnating economies, migrants will definitely feel the squeeze. However, I must add that these consequences depend, to a greater extent, on the size of the receiving populations. Australia receives numerically far fewer net migrants than the U.S., yet the impact of those immigrants on the smaller resident population of Australia is by far larger, both economically and culturally, than the impact on the U.S.
As European countries tighten border controls to stem the tide of refugees flooding their borders and the U.S. is somewhat somnolent about how many refugees it should accept, the plight of migrants will worsen and many will be pushed into liminal legal status for a long time. But, the big question will always be: Will efforts to keep immigrants out of the “south” alter the demographic forces that push and pull people into migrating?