By Lisa Monique Söderlindh*
STOCKHOLM (IDN) - Megatrends such as internationalisation, globalisation, urbanisation and digitalisation have been celebrated for decades; but the master narrative of humanity has yet to earn its fame. Now is the time for “migitalisation” to stage the scene. GERMAN
Stepping up to the age of migration urges a new mindset. Migitalisation offers the lens to catalyse the long needed, fundamental shift in emphasis – from framing and tackling migration as an episodic story and a disruptive event, towards steering a systematic structural change to adapt societies to a migratory world.
The practical mission of bringing about a sea-change in how we address what is neither a new nor passing reality cannot be separated from the conceptual necessity of recasting the often degrading discourses on migration prevailing in popular media, among the public and at political levels.
“The world should welcome the dawn of the migration age,” was the strong message emerging from the first ever UN High-level Dialogue on International Migration in 2006. Almost a decade later and more than 60,000 years after the earliest human migrations across continents is believed to have taken place, migration remains confined to a noun.
The definition and conception of migration as a permanent process, embodying several transformations and results involving and pertaining to the whole world, have yet to earn a place in the dictionary and people’s mind.
The migration age has its predecessor. The historical list of terms designated a particular age or time period, such as “modern”, “international”, “global”, “urban” and “digital”, have consistently earned their suffixes, giving birth to the concepts of “modernisation”, “internationalisation”, “globalisation”, “urbanisation” and “digitalisation”. The time is ripe for adding ‘-isation’ as suffix to characterise a new phenomenon under way.
Urbanisation, denoting a population shift from rural to urban areas, gives an account of the ways in which towns, cities and societies are formed and adapt as more people begin living in urban areas. It casts light on transformations related to the urban condition, involving the 'commonalisation' of a certain lifestyle and pertaining to people and countries across the world.
“Globalisation”, in a similar vein, frames the economic and political implications, commonly perceived as a result of the broadening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of life. “Digitalisation”, as yet another example, was coined as the digital technologies gained momentum and the digital transformation of society was evident.
Endorsing migration the suffix ‘-isation’ and a narrative in its own right, serves the need to start contextualizing international migration within its own historical, contemporary and future trajectory.
Compounding migration and digitalisation
Casting light on migration’s central place in the sweep of human history forefronts migration as a phenomenon both preceding and enabling the global era and globalisation. The historical aspect of migitalisation (migration and digitalisation) refers to the processes triggered by the earliest human migrations.
The momentous moves of Homo sapiens, venturing out of Africa towards a new continental horizon is what in the first place enabled the extension of human settlement across the entire planet. The drive to cross boundaries has ever since led humans to expand the distance within reach.
Technological innovation of modern days, seeing revolutionary changes and accelerations in transportation and communication, would not have seen the dawn without the earliest innovations of transportation means. The past centuries of interchange of worldviews, products, and ideas do not make up a determinant but a continuation of the human exodus. People’s intrinsic urge to move has given rise to the fundamental process by which practically every location have come into reach; turning the entire world into one destination.
The individual decision to move, whether by choice or necessity, and the impact of population movement, is at the core of today’s world. The drive to migrate, to seek opportunities, protection or better and safer lives, have brought, and continue to bring, a shift in our very life conditions and circumstances.
The transformative processes owing to migration as a central and powerful transformative drive, are evident everywhere. The growing number of states having become transit, receiving and sending countries, is giving rise to new transnational communities and interdependencies between previously disparate peoples and states, prompting the need to rethink the whole concept of space and territory.
Also demographic change is propelled by international migration that has become a dominant force for population growth, particularly among the major receiving countries and in the EU as a whole.
Migitalisation refers to this widespread dynamic with which contemporary migration is reshaping the political, cultural, economic and social spheres in countries throughout every region in the world and bringing standardization at structural levels.
The constant emergence of new systems and organizations that arrange themselves to sustain the opportunity to migrate, be it within or outside the legal and institutional context of nations and unions, such as new routes navigated by human smugglers, speak of the degree of self-regulation at stake.
What involves the potential circumvention of legislation is in turn driving changes in institutional and policy regimes at national and international levels that both facilitate and curb the migrations systems continued existence. Neither the advent of international borders or the migration policy and legislations trends seen in the past few years, tending towards a more restrictive stand, has served an impasse for continued cross-border movement.
The current phase of migitalisation marks a historical stage of accelerated worldwide population movement, but large-scale cross-border migration is nothing new. Migration as a phenomena has consistently proved its inherently global nature, from the first intercontinental population movements in prehistoric times to contemporary era seeing large-scale movements such as the transatlantic migrations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, continuing with the burst of population movement after 1945.
Not a short-term story
The present migratory stage is not a short-term story that will end when headlines across the globe redirect spotlight from the on-going refugee crises to a new agenda. The global humanitarian crises, spanning more than 60 million people forced to leave their homes because of the conditions created by protracted conflicts around the world, have inevitably brought forced migration and asylum politics to the forefront. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refers to a paradigm change into an era in which conflicts and persecution are causing unprecedented mass displacement.
The complexity of changing needs and circumstances within the dynamic contexts of international migration will not leave the scene. What the world is currently witnessing is projected as merely the early stages of a long-term situation. Overall population movement is deemed to keep momentum for the better part of this century.
As detailed in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) International Migration Outlook 2015, overall immigration levels are on the rise in most countries. The prospect of a better future, a job, an education or family ties, is drawing people to move as ever before. As further emphasized in recent studies, development in low-income countries fosters more migration, not less as held by the popular belief.
Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CDG), states the unmistakable historical pattern: that as development proceeds, an increase in emigration follows. Successful efforts to assist development of low-income countries and economic growth will stimulate rather than reduce mobility.
Migration’s historical role, its contemporary significance and prevailing projections of its future stake, need to serve the backdrop in the context of bringing about a turnaround in how we consider and address changing migratory dynamics and patterns. The persistence in downplaying migration has struck a long, agonizing chord; paying a heavy human price.
Migration is not a problem to be managed but a permanent feature of humankind. Large-scale migration is inevitable, necessary and an engine for human evolution. Population movement is a fact of reality and a defining feature of contemporary society from which we cannot retreat nor advance without.
Getting the migration equation right is an urgency the world cannot afford to continue failing on. Doing justice to the greatest story of humans is to start setting it right.
The era of migitalisation is here, whether we label it or not.
*Lisa Monique Soderlindh is a freelance journalist and Project Leader and Communicator at the Swedish Migration Agency. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 October 2015]
Photo: At sunset a group of mostly Syrian refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesvos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. © UNHCR/I.Prickett