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  The movement of people from the area of their birth to different parts of the same country, or to different countries has been both the result of uneven development, and a major contributor to population change and rates of development. This is not because numbers of migrants are large in comparison with total populations: streams of migrants rarely exceed 10 million as against a world population in the billions. But migration usually involves young adults, with the result that fertility is reduced in the area of origin and increased at the destination. Also, young migrants often seem willing to work extremely hard to create economic success for themselves and the receiving society. Migration can be voluntary or forced, temporary or permanent. Historically, a small number of international migrations have been particularly significant.

The earliest of these was the movement of some 10 million Africans to the Americas between the 17th and 19th centuries to provide slave labour to the European colonists. They were vital in producing precious metals and crops, such as sugar and cotton, which boosted European economies and living standards and strengthened mercantile capital. Later, emigration of Europeans, especially to North America, helped to reduce European birth rates and to consolidate European power in many colonies. At the same time there were substantial movements from India and China into Southeast Asia, Africa and North America. These ‘diaspora’ movements were not associated with political power, but led to the establishment of commercial élites in many countries.

During the 20th century, there have been increasing barriers to international migration, but nevertheless there have been large-scale movements of refugees and labour migrants. Refugees are generated in large numbers by wars, revolutions and even natural disasters (for example, the effects of Nazism, Eastern Europe after 1945, the partition of India and Pakistan, the violent régime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and famine in the countries of the Sahel). In the 1960s and 1970s, millions of migrants were attracted by the booming industrial economies of western Europe and North America, while nearly two million, mainly from Arab countries, went to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya. Some countries have tried to ensure that ‘guest workers’ were temporary, but in almost every case the migrants have in fact settled and brought in dependents. As a result, international migration has often been associated with ethnic conflict and racism.

The break up of the Soviet Union and of its east European ‘empire’ have unleashed ethnic conflicts which have already produced millions of refugees and have also destroyed job prospects for workers with skills which could be valuable in the EC or elsewhere. The prospects are for a period of intense migration activity. The EC is preparing to resist the pressures, but the success of several millions of Hispanics in entering the US, legally or illegally, suggests that immigration is extremely hard to control in anything but a totalitarian society. PS



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