What is new about the “refugee crisis” which appears to have engulfed Europe is that for the first time in history the consequences of the tragedies inflicted by imperialism upon the people in the “outlying regions” are visiting the metropolis itself in the guise of “refugees”. The U.S. conquest of the Philippines in the early twentieth century, or the earlier colonial conquests throughout the world by Britain, France and Holland, or even the more recent Korean and Vietnam wars, had not produced a flood of “refugees” or “asylum seekers” on the shores of the metropolitan countries. Those who did not merely embrace in silence the death, destitution or famines inflicted upon the “outlying regions” by imperialist intervention, escaped no doubt as refugees, but only to the neighbouring countries within the “outlying regions”, not to the metropolis. The fact that they are doing so now is a new development.
Indeed, imperialism has always been very particular in ensuring that the movement of population from the “outlying regions” into the metropolis was carefully controlled. Throughout the nineteenth century, while fifty million Europeans migrated to other temperate regions of the world to establish settlements there by taking over land from the indigenous population, and fifty million tropical and sub-tropical workers from countries like India and China were shifted to other tropical or sub-tropical regions as coolies or “indentured labourers” (this figure excludes the slaves taken from Africa to work on mines and plantations), the latter were never free to move either into Europe or into the temperate regions of white settlement.
The two streams of migration in other words were kept strictly separate, which remains true to this day even during the period of contemporary “globalization”. Indeed the carte blanche enjoyed by imperialism to intervene where it likes, to impose whatever order it wishes to do over the world, and hence upon the third world, presupposes that the devastations that may result from such intervention would remain confined to the third world itself, causing disruptions in the neighbourhood at the most, but without upsetting the demographic, social, and political equilibrium, such as it was, within the metropolis. At the present moment, even though restrictions on immigration still remain in force, this supposition has come under attack.
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