Mass Migrations: Nothing New; They’ve Never Been Stopped

visigoth invaders


We already know the outcome: the mass of would be immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan and other miserable places hostile to human habitation will not be stopped. The Europeans and the rest of the wealthier parts of the western world may as well accept this fact now and get on with the arduous task of keeping it more or less peaceful. Amongst the three readily available solutions to this rapidly growing crisis, integration and temporary comfort are the best bets. Compared to the third possibility, these two are probably the only workable ones. The other alternative out there, making Syria, Somalia and other bits of hell on earth, prosperous and happy and attractive enough to keep asylum seekers at home has only a vanishingly tiny chance of actually working.

Perhaps unstoppable is too strong an assessment of the current refugee waves. Perhaps it would be more reasonable to say there’s about as much chance of stopping the flood as Canute (Cnut) had of stopping the waves. It’s never happened before. Mass movements of peoples have almost 7500 years of history. From the nomads and peripheral peoples surrounding the Sumer cities of circa 5000 BCE to the 20th and 21st centuries’ waves of refugees, today’s human tide of the desperate and poor is no more than a continuation of an unending historical phenomenon.

There were always two broad groups within the ranks of  migrant waves: those seeking better living standards, the so-called economic refugees, and those fleeing for their safety from war and political repression. By now familiar groups such as Goths, Huns, Vikings, Nubians, Mongols and others came to pillage, plunder and take over the wealthier territories of ancient  Egypt and Rome, the lands of the Middle Kingdom, up and coming Frankish territories of the early Medieval period, the emerging Saxon kingdoms of Britain and so on. These were the economic migrant waves.

What we are seeing today is akin to those fleeing the Apocalyptic Horsemen who were often displaced by a sort of domino effect. Far off peripheral peoples would move towards the wealthier areas and displace others who would flee before them, also towards the richer zones. That flight would almost always end in violence as the haves tried to keep them out.

This is the salient lesson of history: desperate people have nothing to lose and will eventually resort to violence if that is what it takes to survive. The invaders (nothing pejorative meant here) always end up being either exterminated or prevailing and integrating. There is no reason to believe that it will be any different today. It is why, as the Borg were fond of saying, “resistance is futile.” Best to find a peaceful solution now.

That solution must involve a combination of integration and making the lives of fleeing refugees reasonably comfortable for some indeterminate period, a period within which the homelands they are fleeing once again become hospitable. Both are slow processes. While it may take years for the conflicts that drove them from their homes to end, it could take one or more generations to integrate the refugees into quite very different societal cultures. The alternative, however, is worse and, without a doubt, vastly more costly, not only in treasure but also in lives and misery.

It costs about $3,500 per person to make the lives of refugees in Jordan livable and about $13,000 in Germany. It is a no-brainer, that paying Jordan to keep refugees more comfortable is a better bet. And, not only because it is cheaper but, more importantly, because the likelihood that they will eventually return to a close by homeland, which is what most refugees would like to do, is much higher than if they are resettled in a faraway country.

What are the chances that this will happen, that a peaceful solution will be found? With the rise of populist, xenophobic political parties in Europe – Marine Le Pen in France, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party in Greece, the growing popularity of anti-immigrant parties in the UK, Denmark, Spain and others – this is unlikely to happen. Unfortunately the one thing history has taught us is that we hardly ever learn from history.

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