Pondering mass migration

‘Whose country is it anyway?’ asked one newspaper last week, which then went on to suggest that for the last fifteen years foreigners outnumbered the locals by two to one.

With concerns there increasing so rapidly the question raised, and subsequent comment could have been published in London. Instead, the newspaper’s headline, ‘Botswana: Land of the Foreigner’ suggested that similar concerns, although of a very different order, are now being shared in this country although, only a short time ago, it was invariably written off as drought prone, without surface water, and  valued natural resources, infertile and hot. In sum, a country which historically had little appeal to outsiders apart from refugees and the ever land-hungry Afrikaners. Forget the unusual method by which this particular conclusion was reached because it is the sentiment which is of such interest.

This, seemingly supported by officially released statistics suggested to the author that this country has been overrun by foreigners from all parts of the world. His comments reflect a genuine concern which is perhaps reflected by a Gaborone which is, without doubt today, a multi-national, multi-ethnic city. If there are easily identifiable immigrants there and in other parts of the country, however, they are impoverished black Zimbabweans and comfortably endowed white South Africans. 

While the UK, not least, considers the problem of the migrant hordes now threatening it, it could do worse than reflect that had it not dispossessed its occupants and taken over an entire country, Zimbabwe, this country and South Africa, together with other countries further afield might have been spared  the need to cope with the mass departure first of white and then of black.

But then it might also remember that a great many thousands of people in the past, either desperately impoverished, or seeking a better life, migrated from England, Poland, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden to New Zealand, USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa and people from Scotland to just about every country in the world. 

In those days, no one felt that there was need to distinguish the genuine refugees from the economic migrant.

Nor of course was there then any concern that amongst those migrating thousands there might be hidden terrorists bent on subverting and damaging the countries that accommodated them.  It was recognised that all were in need. A terrorist, in his/her modern role seems to be a new concept. Were it not so, the motley crew that established Rhodesia in the 1890s would undoubtedly have been so described. As I suppose would Cortes and Pizarro in Mexico and Peru and van Riebeck in South Africa. But then how far back should we go or indeed can we go in wondering about the mass movement of people and of possession and dispossession? The Italians, then called Romans, took over most of Europe and settled almost everywhere. The Scandinavians, then called Vikings, followed their earlier example.

The English, such as they then were, unable to fight them off, decided that their only option was to obtain a promise that, given sufficient cash, they would not return.  But as soon as the cash was gone, they came back asking for more. Buying them off was probably as ineffective a tactic as this country’s in taking its unwanted visitors from Zimbabwe back by road. 

Having had a free ride home, they took the chance to see family and friends, and then returned.  Which brings to mind the  fabled experience of the English/Danish King, Cnut who was  told that he had only to give the order and the advancing sea would compliantly retreat. It didn’t.  But there has also to be a certain irony about those historical gangsters, Cortes and Pizzaro.

Had they not been so successful in establishing Spain’s hold on so much of South America, the number of Spanish speakers in the USA would not today exceed those in Spain itself.  But then there are more Polish speakers in Chicago today than there are in Warsaw!  But language is also a factor in the UK’s current situation because the downside of English language as a worldwide mode of communication means that English-speaking migrants will always make it their targeted destination. 

Acceptance of migrants may be a price that it will have to pay in return for the huge, probably incalculable, benefits it gains from the international use of its language. But then there are other obvious factors which have a bearing on the migrant problem. Divide the countries of the world into two.

The first would be of the many countries which are at war or involved in major conflict, in which there is misgovernment or no government at all, where there is oppression and injustice and where chronic poverty is a norm.

Then list those few countries which enjoy security and stability, good government, the rule of law, a degree of wealth, and the basic freedoms spelt out by the UN.  The enormous disparity between the two will not provide a solution to the problem of mass migration, but it may go some way to help explain why this exists and why it is on the increase. 

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