International migration

Migration historians are primarily interested in the trek to the New World, especially prior to 1922, when the U.S. government curtailed free immigration and introduced quotas according to countries of origin. We are therefore well informed about trans-Atlantic migration by slaves from Africa (201-202), and coolies from Asia, and about migration from Western (203) and Eastern Europe (204). Large databases from ships that transported migrants and slaves, as well as about individual migrants, are gradually becoming available; the IISH contributes to these projects as well. Yet the massive migration waves occurring within Asia at the same time have received fairly little consideration. In Japan, Korea, Java, and above all China, there were millions of labour migrants, both domestically and to other countries. On the plantations of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies, demand was high for ‘coolies,’ who came from China (205) and Java alike. The contours of the pre-nineteenth century, intra-European flows are gradually becoming visible, although much migration research still awaits regarding the period prior to the heyday of global imperialism.

As a consequence of migration restrictions after the First World War and again after the economic recession of the 1970s, migration has come to be regarded primarily as the cause of problems with regulating and curtailing massive influxes of refugees and eliminating illegal border crossings (206). Modern state formation enables authorities to exclude entire groups from their territory almost overnight at a scale once barely conceivable. In the past, changes in borders already gave rise to large flows of refugees, for example upon the collapse of the European empires following the First World War or at the end of British India. The rise of Nazi Germany and other dictatorships drove many into exile (207-208). In the meantime, however, refugees have become a ‘global’ phenomenon involving continuous displacements and capable of disrupting entire regions for extended periods (209).