Forced reverse migration

"Berlin to accept record 800,000 asylum seekers as crisis mounts," reported a European daily on Thursday, August 20, 2015. The figure is equivalent to 1 per cent of Germany's population and is a sharp increase on an earlier estimate of 450,000. This surge of asylum seekers comprises Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan nationals and poverty-stricken people of African nations facing a civil war-like situation. How do these people reach Germany, far from the Asian and African shores and not even remotely connected to Europe's entry points through the Mediterranean Sea?

By Abhijit Bhattacharyya
  • Published 5.09.15
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"Berlin to accept record 800,000 asylum seekers as crisis mounts," reported a European daily on Thursday, August 20, 2015. The figure is equivalent to 1 per cent of Germany's population and is a sharp increase on an earlier estimate of 450,000. This surge of asylum seekers comprises Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan nationals and poverty-stricken people of African nations facing a civil war-like situation. How do these people reach Germany, far from the Asian and African shores and not even remotely connected to Europe's entry points through the Mediterranean Sea?

The answer lies in the two convenient gateway nations of Europe: Greece and Italy. As the former is in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis, virtually mortgaging itself to the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank, the asylum seekers (coming from West Asia) understandably have found a 'soft entry spot'. Moreover, traditionally, even in the best of times, German-Greek relations were politically volatile and fragile. The Italian coast, on the other hand, is a geographical nightmare for the state itself as the narrowest point separating Europe from Africa is always tempting for desperate people from the 'civil war zones' of Africa to cross over.

What can be foreseen today, however, is an accelerated surge of migrants heading for Europe, thereby creating a potential for violence and bloodshed; as Germany appears to be emerging as the epicentre of the trouble. It happened in the 1930s too, when the Germans rose as a nation from the post-First World War devastation. Although two different centuries should not be compared, yet, traditionally, a strong Germany makes Europeans nervous. And as Germany again appears to be the sole strong economic engine surrounded by smaller countries with weak economies, rising unemployment and illegal migrants who are 'forcibly entering' Europe with 'destination Germany' as their first preference, followed by the British Isles, it is a strange reversal of historical forces. Germans of the 1930s, under their autocratic ruler, forcibly captured territory after territory without bloodshed: Alsace, Lorraine, Saar, Ruhr, Eupen, Malmedy, Bohemia, Moravia, Czechoslovakia and Austria. Why? Because the population of Germany was rising, and they required living space. It was a 'forced and illegal migration' of a strong and prosperous people. Today, 21st-century Asians and Africans (weak and poor) have also resorted to 'forced and illegal migration', in search of better livelihood.

They hail from an area perceived as politically dangerous, with a religious-turbulence tag as most of them are reportedly non-Christians trying to make their way to a predominantly Christian continent. That is the potential area of deeper conflict and concern pertaining to race, ethnicity and religion. Berlin's neighbours have already sounded the bugle. Poland's prime minister declared: "Christians who are being persecuted... in Syria deserve Christian countries like Poland to... help them" and "strict Christian criteria to select Syrian refugees" have been put in place. Slovakia too has said that it will take refugees from war-torn countries, but "only if they are devout churchgoers". The Czech Republic applied the same criteria with the ultimate conclusion of the Polish being: "The non-Christian refugees can be a threat to Poland."

The main potential problem, however, revolves round the present demographic scenario of Europe in general and that of Germany in particular vis-à-vis those of West Asia and Africa. Thus, before 'unification' of West and East Germany, the combined population thereof was 77.5 million in 1988; today united Germany consists of 80.8 million people. After World War II, German society had an abnormally skewed male-female ratio owing to the death of thousands of German men in battle, and the resultant shortage of the labour force led to the entry of a large number of Turkish immigrants.

In 1988, in West Germany alone sex distribution stood at 47.92 per cent males to 52.08 per cent female and the ethnic composition was 2.3 per cent Turks, 1 per cent Yugoslavs, 0.9 per cent Italians, 0.5 per cent Greeks and 92.6 per cent Germans. 25 years later, in 2013, the united country has 88.2 per cent Germans, 3.7 per cent Turks, 1 per cent Italian, 0.7 per cent Greeks and 4.5 per cent Sunni Muslims. Reportedly, 14,800,000 or 18 per cent of the total population of Germany are immigrants. The serious future problem would be, however, is that Germany's 2013 population of 81 million is projected to shrink to 79.5 million in 2020 and 77.3 million in 2030.

In juxtaposition, the war-torn and violent states of Africa and West Asia are not showing any signs of population stabilization. Afghanistan's average fertility rate still stands at 5.64 children per woman with a 33 per cent unemployed populace. In spite of a low fertility rate of 1.87 children per woman, Iraq's 16 per cent unemployed and political chaos have enhanced violence and led to refugees running for cover. The Syrian population too is growing with 3.12 fertility rate per woman and has 18 per cent people unemployed. Libya's 62 lakh population has a comparatively low 2.12 children fertility rate but a 30 per cent unemployment rate around the countryside.

Albania, Sudan and Eritrea have become the source of gangs 'cashing in on migrants desperate for UK'. The English Channel is no longer a barrier to London. To an Indian it looks like one of the many similar and familiar chapters of India's history of foreign invasions.

It appears to be a poignant turn of the wheel of history. Not too long ago, it was the time for, Western (read European) nationals of Britain, Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain, who needed neither passports nor any travel documents to land on any shore, beach or port of any country, from Africa to Asia, Latin America to Australia, ostensibly to do business. They ended up with mayhem, conversion, money, massacre and subjugation. They took upon themselves the role of 'teacher and preacher of justice, equity and fair play' to civilize the non-Western culture, communities and countries and put in place their own brand of administrative reforms from linguistic improvement to cultural revolution. Indeed, that was their "finest hour", which meant that the West was at the height of its power, glory and prestige, as virtually the entire non-European world (except the North Americas) belonged to these eight countries.

Today, together they constitute part of the 28-nation European Union, as the age of imperialism, empire and colonies, which meant and required their physical presence and on-the-spot action across their respective spheres of interest and influence, has turned full circle to haunt them as their very existence in their own continent faces an unprecedented challenge from the very people, tribe and groups who not too long ago could not live independently in their own geography. Is this the destiny of history?