Columnist Hagen Engler

By Hagen Engler

Journalist


Migration a double standard – Time to stop tying identity to a patch of land

Migration is something we need to get used to. Today it’s Ukrainians or Zimbabweans. Tomorrow it could be you, writes Hagen Engler.


The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent refugee crisis, has brought the idea of migration to the forefront of popular consciousness.

Migration is one of the great double standards of our time, where most of us practise utter hypocrisy in our attitudes to the movement of people.

Migration takes many forms

My migration is personal growth, adventure, global mobility. Someone else’s migration is… foreigners!

I have witnessed this in many forms. I remember clearly being nauseated by a South African woman who had recently returned from spending two years working in London.

She sat giggling at an SA television insert about foreign workers in South Africa being murdered in the street.

She had not even the self-awareness to see that she herself was a migrant worker, even while she applauded the assaults and killings of her fellow African migrants in South Africa.

Subconscious racist attitudes and bigotry

We probably all carry such bigotry inside us.

For many, it has been exposed most recently in the subconsciously racist attitudes around white refugees.

For many white people, it is a shock to see other whites becoming refugees, perhaps because to them only other white people are fully human.

Many white people expect wars and refugee migrations in Africa, Central America and the Middle East – not in Europe.

European land ‘a theatre of war’

However, this is nothing but selective blindness. Europe has been a war zone for almost its entire existence as a human settlement.

The recent few decades of patchy stability are an exception.

And anyway, we must not overlook the Bosnian genocide of the early 90s, the Northern Ireland troubles in the 30 years up to 1998, as well as the recent Russian invasions of Crimea and South Ossetia.

So yes, Europe is a theatre of war. Which leads inevitably to the movement of people.

Migration here to stay

Migration is something we need to get used to.

Because the other erroneous assumption that the current geo-political dispensation encourages, is the idea of people being settled, sedentary.

The truth is that people move.

Even nations, over time, have not been permanently tied to a particular territory.

For reasons of climate, overpopulation and war, people have always had to move. In some ways, migration has been what defines us as humans.

Migration for survival

We have migrated out of Africa; south from Africa’s Great Lakes; along the coasts of Asia; over the Aleutian land bridge; across the Atlantic.

Perhaps we’ve been blessed with a few decades of relative peace and stability, which has allowed many nations around the world to claim a particular physical part of the world for themselves and their kin.

But one senses those days are coming to an end.

As water, energy, food and other resources become ever more unequally distributed, people are going to have to move to keep themselves and their families alive.

And when it comes to that, allegiance to a space must necessarily by abandoned.

Identity is not a patch a land

Today it’s Ukrainians, Zimbabweans and Guatemalans.

Tomorrow it will be us.

The very identities we attach to settling particular regions are a result of migration. The conditions that led to that migration remain.

If anything, they are accelerating now. It may be time that we find new ways to identify ourselves.

Something better than a patch of land.  

Also Read: Russia’s war in Ukraine: Latest developments

Read more on these topics

Columns hagen engler migration Russia Ukraine war

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits