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Forced flight Stepping unto the unknown

  • Thomas Linde
  • May, 2019
  • 209
  • Migration


Migration can be defined as ‘a process of moving, either across an international border, or within a state. Encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people, and economic migrants’.

Migration is certainly not a recent phenomenon; on the contrary, it has been part of the human history since its very beginning. People have migrated from one continent to the other, from country to country or internally, inside the same country.

Currently, the International Organisation for Migration says there are about one billion migrants around the world. This number includes 214 million international migrants and 740 million internally displaced persons.

And as people throughout the globe are increasingly moving within their countries and across borders, there is a demand for humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of these populations. Historically, the term ‘migrants’ has not been widely used, but the focus was on specific categories. The Red Cross and Red Crescent statutory meetings of the 20th Century followed the general trend of these years and used the terminology of ‘refugees’, ‘stateless persons’, ‘war victims’, ‘returnees’, ‘displaced persons’, ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘internally displaced persons’.

This can be historically explained by the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts that took place during the Cold War, which brought to the attention of the Movement the plight of persons who were suffering from conflicts, violence and persecution. While little data is available on the migration work of National Societies since 1863, it is clear that there was a lot of work done in the 1920s in support of populations moving within Europe’s new borders.


It is evident that migration has played a pivotal role throughout the years in shaping the world as we know it today. The phenomenon of migration has been indispensable to human histories, cultures, and civilisations. For example, the connection between religion and migration is a cross-cutting issue throughout the history of major religions such as Christianity (e.g. the spread of Catholicism by Portuguese and Spanish during the 11th and 12th Centuries), Islam (e.g. the first and second migration during the Prophet’s time), and Judaism (e.g. the migration of Jewish from Eastern to Western Europe and overseas, and to America during the 19th Century).

Religion has been playing a fundamental role in both triggering massive population movements but also in influencing the lives and conditions of migrants in their displacement. Today, the intersection between religion and migration or what is called ‘transnational religion’ is at the heart of contemporary migration debates.

During the Age of Discovery (15th-17th Century) many Europeans, with the Portuguese and Spanish leading the way, undertook maritime travels and explored the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. This transoceanic migration led to their discovery of new lands, the expansion of trade relations and the development of the economies of both the countries of origin and destination. Commercial and strategic factors influenced migration in that period as many European countries were competing to colonise strategic regions and territories. At the same time, to tackle labour shortages, the slave trade was introduced at various times throughout history, and subsequently abolished in the mid-19th Century.

A second wave of labour came from Europe, especially England, Spain and Portugal, to what was then called ‘the new world’ (i.e. America, Canada, Australia, and southern Africa). A great wave of migration subsequently took place in central Europe after World War I when populations resettled after the creation of many new States, especially following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Another migration period of note was from about 1935 until after World War II when population movements occurred inside Europe. Migration at that time began with the expansion of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and later through forced or inevitable evacuations with people attempting to escape from the war and the relocations which followed in its wake Space never allows for a full history of migration on our planet, but it is important to recognise that the phenomenon has been observed everywhere in the world, throughout time.

Migrants have been essential for the development of many modern states, have shaped labour dynamics around the globe and have been a cornerstone for the global economy. In recent years, discussions have taken place on the linkage between migration and development in a number of forums and especially since the United...

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