Trains, boats and planes

Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, du...

Refugees arrive in Travnik, central Bosnia, during the Yugoslav wars, 1993. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a horrifying refugee crisis going on in Europe where floods of people from the Middle East are trying to get into the richer and stabler countries like Germany and the UK. They are fleeing wars and persecutions in their own countries, and are paying ruthless individuals to transport them mainly in overloaded boats from Asia to Europe.

Tragically, people are being killed in this process, as people are stifled in trucks and drowned falling from boats or suffering similar misfortunes. I haven’t heard of cases, but it would not surprise me to learn that unscrupulous have been killing refugees and taking whatever small possessions that they have.

Children of the United Kingdom's Children's Mi...

Children of the United Kingdom’s Children’s Migrant Programme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether a person is a refugee or merely a migrant, they are leaving one country for another because they believe that life will be better in a new country. Such movements are older than the human race itself. It is believed that the human race evolved in Africa and relatively quickly spread though much of the then accessible world. Members of the “Homo” family of species at that time were widely spread in Eurasia as well as the home continent of Africa.

The Homo family of species spread through much of Europe and Asia probably as a result of their intelligence and their high rate of breeding. Being hunters and gatherers and increasing population would put pressure on scarce resources, forcing families and groups to travel further for food and resulting in migrations in search of food.

This is a recreated vector image in SVG. The o...

This is a recreated vector image in SVG. The original “Human_evolution_scheme.png” was made by José-Manuel Benitos. The following was stated by the original author: “Simplified scheme of human evolution, it does not try to be trustworthy, but a symbol of this process” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course there would have been many other factors, but I’ll not go into that as I don’t know much about early human migrations. One effect of the rise and spread of humanity was the decline of the other Homo species. I assume that there is a link between the two phenomenon as they happened, apparently, at about the same time.

Maybe a cleverer Homo Sapiens stole the resources that the other Homo species needed, or maybe the other Homo species succumbed to some influence that did not affect Homo Sapiens, such as a disease or a climate change. Maybe our ancestors destroyed the other species in a pre-stone age holocaust. I’ve not studied the literature on the subject, so I’m ignorant of what was the likely cause of the decline of the other Homo species.

English: Human evolution splitter view

English: Human evolution splitter view (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever happened in those early days appears to have left the human race the urge to keep moving on. This urge has prompted us to send people to the moon and to send spacecraft to all (local) parts of the universe. Of course refugees in general don’t have much choice in the matter. They need to move or they are dead.

There is probably a spectrum stretching from migrant to refugee that covers all people who change countries or even regions. At the one end you have the forced movement of people between countries, by the authorities or an invader, through people fleeing war or persecution, to those who flee unpopular regimes which won’t actually kill or persucute them, to those who choose to migrate for political, cultural, reasons, right through to those who like to experience a different living environment.

I’ve changed countries myself, and though my migration was voluntary and for a better life, it was a huge upheaval to move countries. You have to leave friends and relatives, all the things that you have known, much of which you may miss, to pack up your life and relocate it to a new country, where the culture is different if not in type then in detail, and you do not know how you will cope.

Of course, voluntary migrants have it easy in comparison to the refugees. They often cannot bring any possession with them, and they may not like the culture (which may espouse a different religion of course) and the likelihood of them returning to their original homes is remote. As refugees they will almost certainly miss their countries more than a person further up the migrant-refugee spectrum would.

Remains of an Orthodox church in the city cent...

Remains of an Orthodox church in the city center. The church was destroyed during the war but has since been reconstructed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, some voluntary migrants suffer at some stage from home sickness. Perhaps when an elderly relative dies and they cannot return for the funeral, or when a sibling who has remained in the “homeland” has a child. I’ve seen home sickness triggered by a simple treat brought by a visitor from the “homeland” that is unavailable in the new country.

I’ve not suffered very much from the syndrome myself, but I’ve known people who have and it is not a trivial thing. Home sickness can make a person physically ill, and if they are frail, it can even kill them. It can seriously disturb a person’s mental health, especially if they are prone to depression or similar mental illnesses. I’d say, however, that almost every single person who leaves one country for another suffers from it, except perhaps those of a persistently roving disposition.

"Homesickness Can Be Cured" - NARA -...

“Homesickness Can Be Cured” – NARA – 514527 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some voluntary migrants cannot cope with living in a new country. These are the ones that pack up and go back “home”. It may be culture, it may be relatives, it may be what you can buy in the shops, but these people make the decision to return from whence they came. I used to wonder why they did it, until I went back for a couple of years, and found that I hated it and couldn’t wait to get back to the new country. After that I had more sympathy for those returning migrants.

This contrasts strongly with refugees, who, although they see their target countries as being better than their homelands, are going to face a hugely different culture, possible religious and racial intolerance, all without the safety net of being able to return to their homelands. Even if they are able, at some time in the future, to return, it is likely that their homelands would have become strange and alien. Likely other people will be living their, with new customs and even religions.

We have a phrase which describes the process of settling in a new land, or adapting to local customs, to making friends and watching children forming bonds with others in the new country. It’s called “putting down roots”. Let’s hope that the refugees all find a place where they can join happily with the local society and put down some roots. Not to forget their homelands totally, but to rejoice in their new homeland. Those of us who are voluntary migrants should welcome these “involuntary migrants”.

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