The causes and consequences of human mobility and its history are key topics of research
In 2015 hundreds of thousands of people, particularly from the Syrian civil war regions, sought protection in Germany and other European countries. As a result, flight and migration, which many people until then had only seen on their television screens, were now brought to the heart of European society. However, these migrants accounted for just a small proportion of migration movements worldwide.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, at the end of 2019, nearly 80 million people were in flight around the world. The International Organization for Migration estimated that over 270 million people, or 3.5 percent of the global population, were living outside the country in which they were born. Researchers now aim to find out more about the facts behind these figures.
The reasons for migration
Researchers have been looking into the causes of migration since the mid-19th century. In general, a differentiation is made between push and pull factors. Difficult living conditions such as poverty, war, repression or natural disasters cause people to leave their homeland. On the other hand, real or perceived favourable conditions attract migrants, such as the prospect of paid employment, legal security, a well-functioning health and education system and communities from their country of origin already living in the destination country.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institutes are now looking at additional new migration factors Climate change which are likely to play an increasingly important role as a driver for emigration. They are also developing new analysis methods. The research team headed by Emilio Zagheni at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research is now using data from social media to quickly and precisely understand migration movements, for example after natural disasters.
Immigration brings change
Demographers record how migration changes the population structure in immigration countries, since the immigrants are usually younger and healthier than the average population in the destination countries, and the number of births can be influenced by migration, as can life expectancy. Another interesting question for researchers is how quickly and strongly migrants adapt to the conditions in the destination country.
One important finding is that there is no such thing as a “standard migrant” per se. Instead, the immigrants vary widely in terms of their countries of origin, religions, cultures and social backgrounds, particularly in major cities such as Frankfurt, London or Vancouver. Steven Vertovec at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity has coined the term “superdiversity” to describe this phenomenon, and has developed recommendations for action for politicians that take this into account.
The growing diversity in society also presents the judicial system with new challenges. Standards change, and existing standards are supplemented by new ones. Legal experts use the term “normative plurality” to describe this situation. Marie-Claire Foblets, from the Law and Anthropology Department at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, is studying the consequences that this will have for the judicial system.
The political response to migration
Migration is a tricky issue from a political perspective, and a large number of different aspects need to be taken into account. As a rule, highly-qualified immigrants are welcomed by all political camps and the large majority of the population. Some people take a more critical view of the acceptance of refugees. However, in the Geneva Convention on Refugees, 147 states committed themselves to granting protection to people who are being persecuted in their home country due to their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political convictions. In Germany, the right to asylum is anchored in the Basic Law, and the EU has also issued directives on how people seeking protection should be treated. Against this background, legal experts in several Max Planck Institutes are analysing the legal situation of migrants.
Recently, a tendency towards exclusion has been observed in many countries. An analysis by Ayelet Shachar from the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity has found that to an increasing degree, the places where travel into a country is regulated are located outside the actual borders of that country. This trend has increased further as a result of the corona pandemic.
The refugee crisis in 2015 presented Germany and Europe with enormous challenges. Researchers from several Max Planck Institutes have studied how politics and the administration have dealt with the crisis.
From a legal perspective, it became clear that in some cases, the rules that apply in Europe are being breached. For example, during the crisis year there was a failure to comply with the EU directives on the reception of asylum seekers, and further breaches occurred in the spring of 2020 at the border between Turkey and Greece. By contrast, a study at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity showed that for the most part, German communities have proven their ability to handle the crisis.
However, researchers at the Institute also looked at the needs of the refugees in this situation. At the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, researchers also studied the psychological health of the asylum seekers and developed measures for assistance.
Integration and exclusion
Migration is an emotional issue, both for the migrants themselves and for the people in the receiving countries. The “History of Emotions” research centre led by Ute Frevert at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development is looking at the role played in the formation of political units, particularly the “nation”, and in the way affiliations are established.
Here, integration and exclusion are two sides of the same coin. At the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, a research group is studying the tendency towards isolation in remote regions of the Alps.
Migration in the history of humanity
Africa was the cradle of humanity and traces of migration can be found even in this early human history. Researchers are looking into the routes Homo Sapiens took as they spread out from Africa. Modern humans were not the first migrants, since the Neanderthals and Denisovan humans spread out in Europe and Asia before them. Traces of their genes can still be found today in the genetic makeup of many Europeans and Asians. The basic contributions to this research originate from the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and for the Science of Human History. The researchers from both Institutes also studied the settlement of Europe, which occurred in three major waves.
The researchers also aim to understand when and how humans immigrated to the American continent, as well as migration movements in Asia, Australia and Oceania. Another topic in this context is the influence that the settlement of people had on the ecosystem where they lived tens of thousands of years ago.