Among the many issues that geographers are interested in is the migration of human beings.

Throughout our history, humans have migrated. In more recent times, especially after World War II, migration has become increasingly complex.

The reasons that people migrate can be broadly categorized into two types: (a) push factors, and (b) pull factors. Push factors are conditions in the place of origin or starting place that drive people out of where they are. Pull factors are the conditions in the place of destination that attract people to go there. Thus push factors repel, pull factors attract.

In recent times, the news media is covering a large-scale migration that is happening from parts of North Africa and West Asia to Europe. Push factors in this instance range from lack of economic opportunity and political unrest to persecution of many kinds (political, religious, ethnic). Both North Africa and West Asia “face” Europe across the Mediterranean Sea. This seemingly short distance is proving to be quite deadly for many. Many a time, overloaded boats have capsized and people died.

While the numbers of migrants from Syria (and Libya) seeking refuge in Europe has been increasing over the past several months, different governments in Europe have reacted in different ways. Hungary, for example, denied refuge to the migrants while Germany and Austria have suspended many of their visa rules for the refugees and are allowing thousands of them in each day. The UK government dithered for quite a while and, under a lot of public pressure, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron finally said they would take in a modest number of refugees.

Austria, Germany, and the UK are all members of the European Union, though not of the Eurozone. You will remember that a few weeks ago, I had written about supranational groupings. The European Union and Eurozone are examples of such groupings. Strictly speaking, the response to the refugee influx must have been a coordinated common response from the member countries. However, Hungary’s denial, Germany’s opening of its borders to the refugees, the UK’s initial denial and later acquiescence have resulted in some disruption among the members.

More than the governments, the people of several countries took to the streets with offers of help for refugees. In scenes that warmed the hearts of some and caused alarm in others, large numbers of people started offering space in their own homes for the refugees.

In some cases, people have argued over whether the people coming in are refugees or migrants. These people are also advocating for the return of refugees from the shores of the Mediterranean. They argue that Europe cannot handle such large and rapid additions to their population, and should not get involved in this affair.

The supporters advocating for the intake of refugees are arguing that basic human concern and compassion should be the guiding factors and the refugees should be helped. Some of the supporters also argue that the turmoil in Syria and Libya (and elsewhere in West Asia and North Africa) is a result of flawed, meddlesome polices of Europe in those regions. Therefore, Europe owes these refugees.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees continue flooding into Europe. As the rescue efforts off the Mediterranean coasts continued, a photojournalist captured the image of a rescuer carrying the body of a toddler who had died as his family had tried to migrate. This image galvanized large populations of “ordinary” people in several European countries and they greatly increased their coordinated their volunteer efforts in aid of the refugees.

In the past few weeks, amazing images have been published of volunteers organizing food, water, and other help for refugees. In many places, huge placards have proclaimed “Welcome to Refugees”, businesses have been helping out. Families of several countries have been offering to provide shelter to refugees.

The movement of people is continuing and where it will all lead is anybody’s guess at the moment. This much is clear: the outpouring of humanitarian support for the refugees has the upper hand right now.

Things you can do:

  1. On a blank map of the world – available in most stationery stores, cheap! – mark the routes of the refugees: the countries they are coming from, the routes they are taking, and the destinations they are going to.
  2. Among the destinations, using different colours mark the responses of the different countries of Europe. How would you group these responses? (One way may be to use different colours to show “Welcoming”, “Rejected entry”, and so on).
  3. Conduct some research (you can start here) and make a table that explains the push and pull factors that are causing this migration.
  4. Why are the refugees not migrating to some other West Asian country or to some South Asia country (such as Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh)?
  5. Put all this information with images, maps, text, graphs, tables, etc. on a large chart paper. Create regular updates on other chart papers on the unfolding situation. Save these carefully, and bring the latest report to the geography conference that will be held in Bangalore in September 2016. (Details will be forthcoming)

(Featured image, courtesy The Los Angeles Times, © 2015)


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