There's No Stopping a Mass Migration That Will Alter the World

What is happening in Europe now is similar to the large migration waves that occurred between the 4th and 11th centuries and reshaped the continent.

Alef
Minna Rozen
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 Migrants of several countries wait for their transport at the police collection point close to the Hungarian-Serbian border.
Migrants of several countries wait for their transport at the police collection point close to the Hungarian-Serbian border. Credit: AFP
Alef
Minna Rozen

News of sinking boats full of migrants and of a cargo container in which dozens of migrants suffocated to death, pictures of migrants with infants in their arms, climbing over fences that are being erected in Europe, along with the refugee camps there —all this evokes memories from the 1930s and 1940s. Having no passports or homeland, we were defined as redundant.

Today it is others who are abandoned to their fates and Germany — who was the one to conceive of the notion of exterminating the redundant ones, and led the way in implementing the idea — is now almost the only country in the world that accepts anyone claiming persecution.

Many people are shocked by the horrific images coming out of Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh and Pakistan. They cluck their tongues at news of girls being sold into prostitution, of boys forced into becoming soldiers at the age of 10, of villages being burnt to the ground along with their inhabitants and of reports of widespread areas afflicted by floods or droughts. But many others aren’t willing to listen to any of this, since the victims are black or Muslims of the wrong denomination, or Yazidis, or just people whose misfortune it is to live in areas in which climate change endangers lives. Very few are willing to open their gates or their hearts.

The illusion that it’s possible to separate the well-fed, “cultured” world from all of this through legislation, fences, weapons, jails and detention centers still guides governments, but history teaches us that this is indeed an illusion.

What is happening in Europe now is similar to the large migration waves that occurred between the 4th and 11th centuries. Climate changes disrupted the existing equilibrium between peoples in central Asia and Europe, leading to radical changes in Europe. The invasion of the steppe peoples, which pushed Germanic and Slav peoples westwards, and the conquest expeditions by hungry Northern peoples, changed Britain into England, Gaul into France, Pannonia to Hungary, the western parts of the Byzantine Empire into Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia, and the eastern parts of that empire into the dwelling areas of Turkic tribes. Areas along the Volga and Dnieper Rivers became Russia. The centuries which elapsed until this process ran its course were soaked in blood, but ultimately new societies that were totally different from the ones that preceded them, were formed in these locations.

No force can oppose such migrations. The hungry and persecuted will stream to places of plenty with less-dense populations.

The major migration streams into Europe are from Africa, the Middle East and Bangladesh. The roots of current problems lie in 19th century colonialism and the 20th century’s greed, which led to global warming. The result is a drying up of Africa and a flooding of Bangladesh. The forecast is that many coastal areas will be submerged and that the Middle East will become a desert.

A rough estimate is that there will be 200 million refugees. The drying up of Africa is one cause for migration, as well as the disintegration of weaker states and a wave of chaos sweeping most of that continent. It is a continent ruled by men of war who sell their country’s resources to the industrialized world. The latter does business with anyone, selling weapons in exchange for natural resources, thus fuelling the conflagration.

The collapse of regimes in northern Africa, the “Arab Spring” which turned into winter, and the turmoil in Egypt and Sudan are tightly linked to population growth alongside a shrinking of basic existential resources – food and water. Greed plays a role in what is happening in Syria and Iraq. Turkey, which is supposedly fighting ISIS, also known as Islamic State, is buying oil from this group without any compunction. Without the intervention of Russia and China, the wars in Syria and Sudan would have been over long ago.

The West’s helplessness is also linked to greed. Restoring order to the Middle East doesn’t appear essential to Barack Obama and European leaders. Will they embark on a global war with Iran, Russia and China? It’s better to do business.

The result will be a new Europe. The train has already left the station and there is no stopping it. It could have been stopped in the past – when stemming global warming was still possible, when there was still a chance to tame the flames of hatred stoked by the greed of the well-fed world.

These developments may have been inevitable. Perhaps the planet can’t contain so many people, and violence and atrocities are necessary in order to reduce their numbers.

In any case, the world of our grandchildren will not resemble the one we imagine in any way. It’s not certain that tomorrow’s world will be Muslim. The peoples of the steppes who flooded Europe in the Middle Ages, as well as the northern peoples, adopted Christianity and its culture. What is clear is that the world will be different and we will be part of it.

The writer is a professor at the Jewish History department at Haifa University.

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