A new phase of migration from the east has now arrived. We can see it daily on our television screen, with thousands of refugees walking, packing trains, rushing borders in heroic efforts to reach German, Denmark and Sweden. Many are Syrians, but others have come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the Middle East.
In an article called Some Tips for the Long-Distance Traveller in the London Review of Books, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad describes how this migration has been unleashed by the information revolution. In the past, information about how to get from one country to another was held by the people smugglers. They kept this information to themselves, so that could charge exorbitant prices to those seeking help. Many of their were cheats, taking money from helpless people and giving them nothing return.
For decades, the paths that led out of war, destruction and poverty into the safety of life in Europe was a closely guarded secret, the property of smugglers and mafias who controlled the routes and had a monopoly on the necessary knowledge. They conducted their illicit trade out of dingy cafés in the back streets of Aksaray in Istanbul and – for the lucky few who reached Greece – the district of Omonia in Athens, where those who had got that far were handed on from one network to another, to be lied to and manipulated again. After all, they had no choice but to hand over their cash in exchange for a promise and a hope.Very people had sufficient money to pay the price demanded by the smugglers. Those who trusted them were usually disappointed.
This situation has now changed. The information about how to migrate from the Middle East to Western Europe is now available to anyone with access to social media.
A Kurdish friend of mine in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq recently posted an image of a hand-drawn diagram on his Facebook page. With little arrows and stick figures and pictures of a train and boat or two, the diagram shows how to get from Turkey to the German border in twenty easy steps. After you’ve made the thousand-mile trip to western Turkey, the journey proper begins with a taxi to Izmir on the coast. An arrow points to the next stage: a boat across the Aegean to ‘a Greek island’, costing between €950 and €1200. Another boat takes you to Athens. A train leads to Thessaloniki. Walking, buses and two more worm-like trains take you across Macedonia to Skopje, and then through Serbia to Belgrade. A stick figure walks across the border into Hungary near the city of Szeged. Then it’s on to Budapest by taxi, and another taxi across the whole of Austria. At the bottom of the page a little blue stick figure is jumping in the air waving a flag. He has arrived in Germany, saying hello to Munich, after a journey of some three thousand miles, taking perhaps three weeks, at a total cost of $2400.
Migration is the topic of almost every conversation in the cafés of Baghdad and Damascus – in towns large and small across Syria and Iraq and beyond – along with the pros and cons of social aid given to migrants in different countries. The best routes are common knowledge, and information on new developments and up-to-date advice spreads quickly on social media, via Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook. These days all you need to reach Europe are a couple of thousand dollars and a smartphone.Anyone with a few thousand dollars can make the journey to Eastern Europe.
The mobilisation techniques used in the Arab Spring, which brought thousands of demonstrators to a given place, were now being used to organise the new waves of migration. This was no longer an exodus of the wretched and downtrodden – though many still were – but a pilgrimage, predominantly, of the young, educated and middle class. The breaking down of Europe’s borders left two groups of people angry and struggling to find a way to restore the old order: the smugglers, and EU officials.This explains why the refugees we see on television speak good English and carry smart phones. They come from the middle class with sufficient wealth to invest a few thousand dollars in getting their sons and daughters to Europe.
Migration from the East to the West has been going on for a long time. The information revolution makes it easier. I doubt that the national governments of Europe would be able to stop it, even if they wanted to.