After the end of colonial rule in Indochina and the start of the War of Independence in Algeria in 1954, France, for example, absorbed 1.8 million people within a decade who had been uprooted in the course of the decolonisation conflicts. On the basis of the size of the population of the ‘mother country’, immigration to Portugal in the course of decolonisation was even more comprehensive: starting in the autumn of 1973 and in the space of just one year, almost half a million ‘retornados’ came to Portugal from Portugal’s former territories in Africa (Mozambique, Angola, Cap Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe). Most immigrants came from Angola. In the mid-1970s, the ‘retornados’ accounted for almost 6% of the Portuguese population. The high level of migration that followed the dissolution of colonial territories resulted in a paradox in the history of European colonial expansion: the colonial empires of Europe were more present in the major cities of the continent after decolonisation than they ever were before.
In addition, the major post-colonial migration of people from former colonies to Europe increased, because privileged gates of entry existed as a result of the continued close links between major cities in the former ‘mother countries’ and the states that had gained independence. Of all the major European countries of immigration, this was particularly true of France and Britain, but also of the Netherlands and Belgium. With the British Nationality Act of 1948, Britain offered all inhabitants of the colonies or the Commonwealth uniform nationality, free entry and job opportunities in Great Britain. This open regulation was gradually rescinded, starting in the 1960s.
In Europe’s leading economic states, the number of immigrants from other parts of Europe had already risen sharply during the period of high industrialisation and agricultural modernisation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the period of economic reconstruction in the first thirty years after the end of World War II, which was characterised by their high rates of economic growth and strongly expanding labour markets, cross-border fluctuations in the workforce were much greater than before in the context of a specific migration regime. Western, central and northern Europe became the destinations of choice for migrants, most of whom came from countries bordering the Mediterranean.
Prerequisite for migration: financial resources
As the consolidation of the social interaction between and networking of people, societies, economies, and social systems, globalisation has fundamentally changed the world over the past half-millennium. Regions where processes of global networking were particularly dynamic are also very frequently centres of marked migration. After all, migration is part of and a characteristic of the consolidation of social interaction. It is the prerequisite for and a constituent of the networking of individuals and collectives. Furthermore, as a result of globalisation, migration flows contribute to transformation processes: they have changed the make-up of populations and modified economic and social structures, religious practices, or forms of artistic expression. In recent centuries, migration has been a key element of globalisation. It still is today, and is likely to remain so in the future too. The notion that in the past it was above all the particularly poor and needy who became migrants is a myth. The fact is that financial resources have always been a major prerequisite for the development of an individual migration project; formalities relating to emigration and immigration had to be paid for in the past too. On top of this there was the considerable cost of travel and transport. Moreover, agents or mediators generally had to be paid (and were expensive). In most cases, the migrant was not able to start a paid job immediately after arriving at his or her destination. In some cases, it was necessary to make initial investments; capital that the migrant had saved was used up, and money had to be borrowed. For the poorest of the poor, implementing a migration project such as this was always illusory. Countless studies prove that poverty was in the past a huge restriction on the ability to travel.
In many cases, parts of the migration history of a collective (such as the transatlantic migration from Europe in the nineteenth century) are held up as evidence of the drive and daring of one’s own ancestors, while parts of the history of immigration are held up as evidence of openness, tolerance and far-sightedness (for example the migration of the Huguenots or the ‘Poles of the Ruhr’). Rarely, however, do such stories feature in the current discussion about what migration is and what migration is understood to be. This debate is still dominated in a one-sided manner by the view that migration is the result of crises, catastrophes and deficits, and that its consequences are a threat to safety, prosperity, and societal and cultural homogeneity. This is why migration is seen as a risk that urgently requires restrictive political measures before and after the fact. Experiences of migration and (historical) academic findings about completed migration processes are not, as a rule, seen as a resource for helping society deal with the issue of migration in a more relaxed manner.
This article was first published in September 2015 in the magazine Kursbuch 183 (Murmann-Publishers).
Jochen Oltmer (b. 1965), teaches Modern History at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück. His most recent publication is Globale Migration. Geschichte und Gegenwart [Global migration: past and present].
Translated by Aingeal Flanagan
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann June 2016