Europe: Migration

Try again: A man makes a dangerous attempt to get nearer to the Channel Tunnel in Calais. © PA

The movement of people, both into Europe and between its countries, is at the heart of many of the continent’s current political disputes. Should Europeans welcome the freedom to move?

They tried to jump on board Eurostar trains moving at 100mph, to scale fences protected with barbed wire and to climb on lorries and cars when they are stuck in traffic. On just one night at the end of July, the migrants in the northern French port of Calais made 2,000 attempts to storm the Channel Tunnel and reach England.

It was far from the only time Europeans have seen migration hit the headlines in 2015. Refugees fleeing war-torn areas in the Middle East and Africa have desperately tried to reach European shores. Nearly 2,000 of them have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands more have arrived in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta, creating tensions with other European nations over the appropriate response.

These migrants’ journeys may be very similar to those previously made by the ancestors of today’s Europeans. Most scientists now believe that the world’s population shares a common African heritage from many millennia ago, based on the ‘Out of Africa’ theory. More recently (around 7,500 years ago), a wave of migrant farmers from modern-day Syria, Iraq and Israel are believed to have mixed with people who were, by then, indigenous to Europe.

Those fleeing oppression have also moved to, or within, Europe for centuries. But relatively recent advances in travel, communications and technology have made migration far easier, leading people to move faster, in larger numbers and more aware of economic opportunities which may await.

A key principle of the European Union (EU) is that the people within it are free to move around between countries, but European parties hostile to this principle have increasingly found an audience in recent years. In Britain, immigration was recently a crucial election issue, and Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear that he wants the EU to reconsider the definition of free movement during his current negotiations with its leaders.

But author Katy Long sees migration as a global justice issue. Opening borders allows everyone the same access to services and opportunities; restrictions are simply unfair to the world’s neediest citizens.

Take our freedom

Groups such as Migration Watch UK argue for tighter controls on people’s movement. Countries facing high net migration are more likely to face tension between communities, demands on the working population and pressure on essential services. The right to move between countries should not be taken for granted.

Others cite evidence such as a report from the UCL Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration to argue that migrants have a positive economic impact. They take jobs that others would often reject and want to make a positive contribution, benefiting everyone.

You Decide

  1. Is the community you feel most attached to a local, national, multinational or global one?
  2. Should Europe allow people to move freely between countries?


  1. Produce a news report on one of the current migration crises. Explain the different political views on what is happening and what should be done about it.
  2. Prepare a briefing paper for Theresa May, the Home Secretary, on migration policy in the UK. Provide her with at least three policies she could adopt and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. Recommend a course of action at the end.

Some People Say...

“I am a citizen of the world.”

Sylvia Beach

What do you think?

Q & A

What does free movement mean for people in the UK?
Over two million EU citizens have taken advantage of the opportunity to live in the UK, which has prompted some concern over the impact on housing and services. But some have pointed out that a similar number of Brits have taken advantage of the chance to live elsewhere in the EU – and usually enjoy better weather than they would get at home.
How does migration relate to identity?
Identity and migration are linked, particularly as some people identify themselves strongly as members of particular communities or nations. But identity isn’t necessarily defined by geographical area; some may identify themselves by their nationality but they may also identify closely with those who share their gender, sexuality or race, for example.

Word Watch

The Middle East and Africa
Many of the refugees come from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, countries run by oppressive regimes such as Eritrea, and unstable states in North Africa. The UN estimated that over 3 million people had fled Syria’s civil war alone by August 2014.
Mediterranean Sea
Migrants taking this route have tended to make the journey on boats unfit for the water and packed with far too many people.
‘Out of Africa’ theory
This suggests that humans originated in Africa and moved on to populate the world between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.
Fleeing oppression
Migrants have previously set down roots in areas such as the east end of London. The houses built by the Huguenots who fled religious persecution in France in the 17th century, or the Jews who escaped from anti-Semitic violence in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, are still visible.
Crucial election issue
47% of respondents to one poll said immigration was among the three most important issues facing the country when they were considering whom to vote for in May.

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