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Immigration and Internal Migration



The history of migration in twentieth-century Europe divides into three periods. During the first period, Europe became the world's major refugee-generating region during World Wars I and II, during the demise of the European empires and the Eastern European revolutionary changes of 1917, and during the rule of the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany. In addition, in the 1930s Germany and the Soviet Union instituted forced-labor migration systems.

In the second period, from the early 1950s, the division of Europe into a capitalist western and communist eastern half ended centuries-old patterns of east-west migrations. Migration in Eastern Europe was mainly internal, while in Western Europe the economic take-off of the 1950s resulted in a south-north labor migration system. Workers were expected to stay only for a limited period of time as "guest workers." Recruitment came to include West Asian men and women, especially from North Africa and Anatolia (western Turkey). In this period, Europe's colonizer countries lost their hold over dependent regions in Africa and Asia, and as a result three types of migration occurred: return of administrative, military, and commercial personnel; reverse migration of the descendants of nineteenth-century settler migrants; and in-migration of workers and refugees from the newly independent states.

In the third period, from the 1980s, Europe as a whole became an immigration region and, after the 1989 collapse of Eastern European communism, new east-west migrations commenced, if on a small scale. As regards migration and cultural contact, the borderlands of southeast Europe and West Asia became an area of contested belonging: Armenian refugees are usually considered European, as are Anatolian labor migrants and Jews in Israel. Other peoples of the same region, Palestinians and Ossetians, for example, are usually not considered European.


In the decades before 1914 the nationalist impulses in Europe's empires imperiled the historic many-cultured coexistence of peoples, and at the beginning of World War I most of the five million intra-European migrants, who did not live in their state of birth, were suddenly labeled "enemy aliens." Then wartime displacement mobilized millions. Throughout history, Europe's peoples had migrated and established homes in culturally mixed rural and urban spaces, so that no political-national borderlines could neatly divide distinct ethno-cultural or "national" settlement areas. When the Versailles Treaty of 1919 moved borders over people, some twenty million Europeans found themselves living outside of the states they ethnically belonged to. The new nation-state governments, in an attempt to "unmix" peoples and to homogenize populations, expelled nonnational cultural groups and attracted conationals from outside the new borders. Population exchanges were imposed in the realm of the former Ottoman Empire on peoples of Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish culture, and in the east central European region on German- and Slavic-language peoples. Millions migrated under duress.

In Russia, the Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Russian civil war (1918–1920), resulted in several refugee movements. First, supporters of the old tsarist regime fled; then, political dissidents who differed with the Bolshevist regime left. So did members of the middle classes. Berlin and Paris became their centers. However, in the 1920s the expectation that the republic of the proletariat would become as dynamic a society as the middle-class republic of the United States had been, motivated some migration to the Soviet Union. Parallel, prewar migrants and emigrants returned to their newly independent countries of origin, especially the Polish and the Baltic states. Anti-Polish discrimination in Germany led tens of thousands of migrant worker families to move to jobs in Belgium and France.

Fascist rule in Italy after 1922, the accession to power of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933, and the 1936 insurgency of General Francisco Franco (1892–1975) in republican Spain marked the beginning of flight from fascist persecution. Political dissidents and trade unionists migrated from Italy to France and from Germany to many states in Europe. The Spanish civil war (1936–1939), on the other hand, attracted political sympathizers who came in support of the Republican forces. Internally, millions fled the troops of the Falange (the fascist party in Spain), and after the collapse of the Republic in 1939 about 450,000 crossed the border to France. In Germany the Nazis' virulently anti-Semitic stance led to emigration and, soon, flight of Jewish Germans. By 1939 the Third Reich's policy and the beginning of World War II prevented escape. People fled as far as Latin America and China (Harbin and Shanghai in particular). Jewish flight to Palestine, later Israel, was to set in motion a vast refugee movement of Palestinian Arabs, the majority of which were of Islamic faith, in the late 1940s.

Throughout this period the traditional migration to North America stagnated. In 1914 the war had stopped migration to, as well as return migration from, the United States. The latter had amounted to about one third of the "immigrants," many of whom were and intended to be temporary workers. Migration resumed in the immediate postwar years but was countered by United States exclusion laws directed in particular against Eastern and southern Europeans, at the time identified as racially inferior because of the "dark" or "olive" color of their skin. The Great Depression after 1929 further reduced propensity to emigrate while increasing the numbers of earlier migrants who returned from the United States to reenter the supportive networks of their families in Europe. After 1933 only few of the refugees from fascism were accepted in the United States and Canada. Following the Evian Conference on the Question of Refugees of July 1938, one observer aptly noted that the refugee-generating fascist regimes were surrounded by refugee-refusing democracies. To negotiate an end to the chaos of expulsions as well as to ensure procedures of property transfer, U.S. diplomats insisted on establishing an Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees. Governments in the receiving societies wanted to ensure that refugees came with means and did not burden social welfare services. Many of those excluded ended up in extermination camps.

In the 1930s, both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, for different reasons, established regimes of forced labor that mobilized many millions of men, women, and even children. In the Soviet Union, massive industrialization and mining projects required workers in regions with no native labor force. Collectivization of agriculture uprooted millions of peasant families and caused famine migrations. Rural-urban migrations in European Russia assumed unprecedented proportions, and the urban population more than doubled from 1921 to 1931. At the same time, skilled industrial workers had to migrate to the countryside to help mechanize agricultural production. The Stalinist government's system of forced labor was to involve, by 1941, more than twelve million people—but estimates vary widely. It lasted to the mid-1950s.

Parallel, the Nazi regime, at first hostile to non-Germanic working people, began to pursue its rearmament strategy and encouraged temporary in-migration of foreign workers. After the occupation of Eastern Europe in 1939, the Slavic populations, whom the Nazis considered racially inferior, were forced to labor for the Nazi war machine. By 1945 some seven million people had been deported to the Third Reich for forced labor. The Reich's troops also dislocated Polish and Ukrainian people en masse to make room for "Aryan"-German settlers. After the war, millions of these "displaced persons" (DPs) had to return home if coming from Western-occupied countries, or were left stranded if unwilling to return to the eastern countries under Soviet occupation. The United States, in a special program, admitted some 450,000 DPs, including survivors from the death camps. Others migrated to Australia and Canada.

The consequences of the war involved another unmixing of peoples. Some eleven to twelve million German-language people were expelled from Poland and regions farther east. The Polish state as a whole was moved west, and Poles expelled from the region coming under Russian Soviet control were forced to migrate to the western, formerly German, regions. In western Europe, refugees from occupation and war slowly made their way back to their homes if still existing. Because the war-devastated economies seemed to provide no prospects for the future, transatlantic emigration resumed, but with the economic take-off in the 1950s this pattern of mass migration that had begun in the 1820s came to an end. Only from the surplus populations of Portugal and Italy did hundreds of thousands continue to migrate to Canada into the 1960s.


Nineteenth-century labor migrations—from Europe's peripheral circle of Ireland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and southern Europe to the highly industrialized core of Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—had continued on a far reduced scale during the 1920s and the 1930s. When, at the end of the 1940s, the United States' Marshall Plan encouraged reconstruction and economic growth in Western Europe, a shortage of workers in the core countries was felt as early as the 1950s. Britain integrated DPs; former German prisoners of war stayed as workers in France; West Germany began to recruit laborers in Italy, and Irish still migrated to Britain, Italians to France, and Spanish to France and Germany. In northern Europe, Sweden began to attract labor, and Finns, especially Finnish citizens of Swedesh ancestry, came. Eastern Europe was cut off by the Iron Curtain, and internal German east-west migrations ended with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Though exit rules were liberalized in Poland and less so in Hungary, migration in the two Europes, with labor migration from Yugoslavia excepted, remained separate till 1989. In Eastern Europe, rural-urban and interregional migration systems operated, for example from Poland to Budapest, Hungary. Mediterranean Europe became the labor reservoir for the north. In the 1950s, Italy's conservative government initiated a labor migration program to rid itself of the unemployed (and the Socialist and Communist parties of potential voters). Men and women from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, and finally from Turkey migrated to northwestern Europe. In France they mixed with migrants from the North African colonies. South-north mobility, encouraged and managed by intergovernmental agreements, followed the classic patterns of job availability, formation of cultural communities, and sequential moves. Historic links, whether cultural, economic, and/or political, and power relationships influenced decisions about destinations.

Receiving countries' recruitment policies to import temporary workers during labor shortages and return them during periods of recession were designed to "cushion" economic cycles by preventing wage increases in boom periods and high unemployment during economic downturns. Thus, no immigration policies were developed, rather the prewar concept of rotatory labor was continued. European attitudes toward temporary labor migrants remained diametrically opposed to North American concepts of immigration. To avoid the "foreign worker" label, used in Nazi Germany, as well as the rights-conferring term immigrant, the newcomers were colloquially called "guest workers." At first they filled shortages in skilled or semiskilled industrial sectors and subsequently in the service sector. Under continuous economic growth, and by taking jobs that native workers no longer accepted in view of wages and working conditions, migrants became structurally indispensable in the core countries. When the Italian and Iberian regions of recruitment no longer delivered workers, Yugoslav, Turkish, and North African workers began to be admitted.

Government-controlled labor recruitment ended after the oil-price increase of 1973. Contrary to administrators' projections of return, migrants initiated a family-reunion phase. To them, it made no sense to go back to unemployment-threatening societies of origin, and humanitarian concerns in receiving societies prevented involuntary repatriation. While not accepted to citizenship, labor migrants became "denizens" enrolled in social security systems. Thus, in the economic crisis of the late 1970s, they did not have to rely on family support at "home"—in fact, it had become unclear where home was. Transculturally competent migrants joined labor movements and participated in strikes; in some industries they had higher rates of unionization than native-born workers. Since the late 1970s, some fourteen to fifteen million "foreigners" resided in Western European countries, ranging from 3.3 percent of the population in Great Britain via a middle range of 6.5 to 9.0 percent in France, Germany, and Belgium, to 16 percent in Switzerland in 1989. In several states, even migrants' locally born children were forced to retain the status of "foreigners."


In Asia and Africa, the European colonizers had set up regimes of bound labor and had relied on such workers to support their military campaigns. During World War I, some two hundred thousand men were brought to France and Britain; another million supported the British elsewhere. In the interwar period small settlements of African and Asian sailors and dockworkers emerged in many of Europe's port cities. Students from the colonies questioned their political and cultural position relative to the colonizing power: African students in France developed the concept of "negritude," Indian students in Great Britain the antecedents of "subaltern" and "postcolonial studies." Other migrants inserted themselves into the European labor movements and transferred practices of militancy back to their societies of origin. The number of these migrants was small, their stays temporary, their influence large.

After World War II, during which soldiers and workers from the colonies again supported the Allied war efforts, most of the colonies achieved independence through negotiation or wars of liberation. As a result, administrators, soldiers, and commercial personnel returned, and those descendants of former migrants to the colonies who would not or could not stay began a process of reverse migration. Some 5.5 to 8.5 million Italian, French, British, Belgian, Dutch, and other white colonials and nonwhite auxiliaries—colonials who had acted as local support staff for the colonizers—came before 1975. Mixed-origin families and their children faced racism; "colored" auxiliaries often ended up in camps or substandard housing. "Home" governments assumed that nonwhite refugee auxiliaries would stay only temporarily, until conditions in their states of origin would permit return. However, in most cases, return never became an option, and European societies lost their white exclusiveness. "The empire strikes back," noted critics of colonialism.

During the postwar reconstruction and the 1950s mass production of consumer goods, former colonizing countries began to rely on labor from their (former) colonies in addition to the intra-European "guest workers." For example, demobilized and unemployed Jamaican soldiers came to the United Kingdom in 1948; uprooted Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim refugees from India and Pakistan arrived in the following years. By 1962, when the government tried to end immigration from nonwhite countries of the Commonwealth (a loose confederation of former members of the British Empire), some 430,000 nonwhite immigrants resided in the United Kingdom. In each of the next two decades about 450,000 arrived as families rather than as single male workers. In France a prewar North and West African community, numbering about 100,000 by 1939, provided supportive networks for those arriving since the 1950s. "Anticolored" exclusion bills remained ineffective. The former colonizer societies became multicolored against their will, but racism lost its hold only slowly. While France and Britain attempted to reduce migration by restrictive legislation and became multicultural against their will, the Dutch and Swedish societies began to reconstruct themselves in a conscious, but not unopposed, process of change.

Migration from the decolonizing Southern Hemisphere to socialist Eastern Europe remained small. Many of these migrants were connected to liberation movements or pro-Soviet governments, and their admission was categorized as "inter-national solidarity." Migrants were positively segregated as political activists or negatively segregated as cheap labor and, thus, no everyday cultural exchange could develop. After 1989 these migrants found themselves in extremely precarious economic situations and faced further discrimination or expulsion.


Western Europe's overall migration balance in the 1950s was still negative, with a net loss of 2.7 million men, women, and children. It evened out during the 1960s and, from the 1970s, and clearly in the 1980s, Western Europe became an immigration region. The change was due first to demographic developments and their consequences: the aging of European populations and the resulting demand for service personnel, and high levels of training and educational achievement and the resulting reluctance of the younger generations to enter unskilled and low-income occupations. Second, it was an outcome of the previous guest-worker migrations: when recruitment ended in the mid-1970s, the workers did not return as postulated by population planners but engaged in strategies of family reunification. Third, in view of the imbalances of the global terms of trade and of the "gobal apartheid" between "white" high-standardof-living and "colored" low-standard-of-living countries, Europe's economies attracted migrants from formerly colonized countries and from the Southern Hemisphere in general.

Compared to the south-north migrations and their potential in the future, post-1989 east-west migrations were limited. They included some 2.5 million, mostly temporary, refugees from the wars of dissolution of former Yugoslavia, who joined earlier migrating relatives; a few hundred thousand Polish and east central European seasonal workers; about 2.2 million "Aussiedler" (descendants of German emigrants to tsarist Russia) from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the decade after 1988; and several hundred thousand Russian Jews. In contrast, migration in post-1989 Eastern Europe, especially between Russia and the decolonizing newly independent states, involved an estimated twenty-five million migrants who regained the states of their particular ethnoculture. Since the mid-1990s, about half a million Chinese migrated seasonally or multiannually to the opportunities offered by the Russian economy.

Demography and statistical data notwithstanding, most Western European governments refused to develop immigration policies and concepts of multiculturalism. In the early 1990s the conservative German government categorically stated that the country—with about 10 percent of its population immigrants—was "not an immigration country." To prevent sizable east-west migrations from the ten new European Union (EU) member states of 2004, citizens of the latter have freedom to "circulate" to but not to migrate and take jobs in the "old" EU for a period of seven years—though some "old" EU countries permit admission under special regulations. Since the EU has no mandate to legislate in matters of immigration, intergovernmental agreements set policies: the Schengen Agreement (1985) created an internal zone of free mobility, while fortifying the barriers toward the outside ("fortress Europe"), and unified visa procedures for non-European entrants; the Dublin Convention (1990) changed policies and admission procedures as regards asylum seekers from protecting refugees to controlling in-migration; the Maastricht Treaty (1992) differentiated between EU- and non-EU Europeans; and in 1994 an "EU-citizens first" employment policy was announced.

In the mid-1990s, more than 60 percent of the "foreigners" in the EU had lived there for more than ten years and in North American terms of thinking would have been designated "immigrants." Many such "foreigners" are European-born children of immigrants who, under ius sanguinis (right of blood) provisions, remain foreigners by law. Of the 20 million interstate migrants in the "old" Europe (the original fifteen EU members) in 2000, 5 million were EU-internal migrants. The largest groups from neighboring regions came from Turkey (more than 3 million) and from the Maghreb (Morocco and Algeria, 2.3 million). Since the 1990s, the legal as well as undocumented migration from developing countries further away has increased, in particular from French- or English-language postcolonial states such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Senegal, and Ghana, but also from China. Figures amount to 1 million from sub-Saharan Africa and 2.2 million from Asia. Some 12 million Muslims live in Europe. Net immigration to Europe in 2000 amounted to 0.7 million, or 0.2 percent of the EU population. This compares to an annual immigration to Canada equal to about 1 percent of the population. Whatever the political declarations and the absence of immigration policies, since about 1980 Europe has been an immigration region.

See alsoDisplaced Persons; Refugees.


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Dirk Hoerder

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