It is frequently overlooked that the transatlantic migration of Europeans was never a one-way street. The less important the long-dominant migration of families for the purpose of agricultural settlement became in the course of the nineteenth century, and the more individuals migrated for the purpose of finding industrial employment rose, the higher the rates of re-migration became. Between 1880 and 1930, four million people returned to Europe from the USA. There were huge differences between the individual returning groups: only 5% of Jewish transatlantic migrants returned, compared to 89% of the Bulgarians and Serbs. The average for Central, Northern, and Western Europeans was 22%. Above all, however, transatlantic migration from eastern, eastern-central and southern Europe, which had dominated this route since the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries, led less and less to definitive emigration and more frequently to return and circular migration. For example, half of the Italians who emigrated to North and South America between 1905 and 1915 returned to Italy.
Compared with North America, other regions of Neo-Europe increased in attraction, including above all Australia, Brazil and Argentina, but also New Zealand, Uruguay and Chile. Before 1850, the USA had taken in about four-fifths of all Europeans; in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was approximately three-quarters; since the turn of the twentieth century, about half. The increased significance of migrant destinations outside North America was primarily the result of the opening up of large new settlement areas for European farmers and the discovery of raw material deposits, the exploitation of which required large numbers of workers.
In addition to the settlement of Europeans in colonial areas, the varied and comprehensive migration of Africans and Asians in particular was a direct or indirect result of Europe’s global political-territorial expansion and the economic globalisation that originated in Europe. In the form of flight, displacement or resettlement, this migration was the result of the establishment and enforcement of colonial rule. In the form of deportation, it was the result of the compulsion to cultivate market-compatible products or the far-reaching establishment of plantation economies, which remained reliant on large numbers of (forced) labourers in the long term. In the form of labour migration, it was the result of the change in economic structures, including in particular the exploration and rapid exploitation of raw material deposits that were important for European industrialisation, the shift in agriculture to cash crops, the growth of urban economic areas, or the development of infrastructure (the construction of railways, canals, and ports). In the form of agricultural settlement migration, it was the result of what was the generally violent annexation and conquest of new settlement zones and areas.
Europe as a migrant destination since the late nineteenth century
The second third of the twentieth century saw the end of the mass phenomenon of European transatlantic migration, which had shaped global migration in the ‘long’ nineteenth century. In the 1920s, European overseas migration did not reach more than half of the average annual rates reached in the decades before the Great War. In the 1930s, these figures fell once again as a result of the Great Depression: between 1931 and 1940, only 1.2 million overseas migrants were registered across the entire European continent. The average rate of 120,000 migrants per annum was the lowest in 100 years. With the outbreak of World War II, transatlantic migration ground to a complete halt.
Although European transatlantic migration picked up again in the 1950s, the figures were nowhere near those of the 1920s, let alone the peak period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: states like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands or (West) Germany, which had for so long been major countries of origin in terms of the exodus from Europe, were now registering greater numbers of immigrants than emigrants. Moreover, the migrant flows from other previously important countries of origin for transatlantic migration, such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, or Greece, were now largely focusing on the expanding labour markets of the industrialised countries in northern, western, and central Europe.
As the main player in colonial expansion and the main exporter of people to America, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, Europe had for a long time been a rare destination for intercontinental immigration. In Britain, the centre of the biggest empire in the world, the number of people of African or Asian origin in the country had already risen as part of the expansion of the empire from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, this number remained relatively small. For 1770, for example, the records speak of only 10,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa in Britain. Half of them lived in London. Elsewhere in Europe, the number of immigrants from outside Europe was much, much smaller. This gradually began to change in the two decades preceding World War I, when the number of people of non-European origin in Europe began to rise sharply. Contrary to the frequent assumption, these migrants were certainly not just members of the colonial underclasses.
A key gate of entry for pioneer migrants coming to Europe was very often the acquisition of academic qualifications in the context of colonialism: colonial rule could only function with a comprehensive apparatus of local civil servants working in administrative positions. With the increasing consolidation of colonial rule in the late nineteenth century, this army of collaborators increased dramatically. In the inter-war period, a growing number of local civil servants and officers, many of whom were educated in the major cities of Europe, occupied key positions at the top of colonial administrations. It is important to note that by no means all educational migrants from the colonies returned to their native countries.
The period of decolonisation after the end of the Second World War did nothing to stem the tide of educationally motivated migration. Many former colonial powers saw education migration from the now formally independent states as an opportunity to bind future leaders to the former colonial power and, with their help, to allow the former colonial rulers to continue to exert an influence on the politics, economy, society and culture of the new states. Consequently, the training of colonial collaborators not only resulted in a key channel for migration to Europe, it was much more the case that specific patterns of global educational migration developed, patterns that in some cases still have an impact today and frequently led to permanent residencies in Europe. In 1949-50, for example, there were 2,000 students from sub-Saharan colonies in France. Three years later, this number had doubled. By the end of the decade, the figure had doubled again, to approximately 8,000. Approximately one-tenth of all pupils at higher-level schools in these regions in the 1950s continued their education in France. As a continuation of this tradition, French universities in the academic year 2000/2001 recorded approximately 30,000 students from sub-Saharan Africa alone – one-fifth of all foreign students in the country.
Shipping was another early gate of entry for migrants from outside Europe. From the end of the nineteenth century onwards, the merchant navies of Europe, which grew rapidly in the course of globalisation, began recruiting Asian and African men with increasing frequency to do physically strenuous work below deck that put a strain on the health. These men reached the harbour cities of Europe, where the first tiny seeds of African and Asian settlement were sown both before and after the First World War. For example, starting in the late nineteenth century, sailors of the Kru ethnic group from West Africa became part of the populations of Liverpool, London and Cardiff, and maintained their links with shipping until the 1970s. In the 1880s, the merchant navy began recruiting firemen in British India. Soon several hundred of them were working in British ports or earning their money in the low-wage sectors of the textile industry. Chinese sailors came to London, Hamburg or Rotterdam, and continued to work in the transport sector in these cities, or established the first Chinese bars and restaurants. The third group of Asians, Africans or West Indians who became pioneer migrants in Europe were the soldiers recruited by the colonial powers for the theatres of war in Europe during the First and Second World Wars. Several thousand of them remained in Europe once the fighting had stopped.
However, it was only after the Second World War that real mass migration to the European continent began. This migration was stimulated above all by the process of decolonisation. The dissolution of Europe’s colonial empires after the Second World War led to a massive ‘remigration’ of European settlers to Europe. Furthermore, in the process of decolonisation, the migration of colonial collaborators to the former ‘mother countries’ was permitted for civil servants, soldiers or police officers who had supported colonial rule, or for people who were considered by the local population to be symbols of the extreme (political) inequality of colonial society. The end of the global empires of the Netherlands (in the late 1940s), France (in the 1950s and early 1960s) and Portugal (early 1970s) in particular resulted in major refugee movements and displacements. Between the end of World War II and 1980, a total of between five and seven million ‘Europeans’ returned to the European continent from the former colonies within the context of the decolonisation process. Many of them had neither been born in Europe nor ever lived there.
Translated by Aingeal Flanagan
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann June 2016