by Gianluca Gatta
The term “migration” is usually associated to a series of complex phenomena concerning the relationship among living organisms and the environment. This extremely general field of application reveals its structural character. Plants and animals do migrate and, among the latter, humans too migrate. From an historical point of view, though, it becomes evident that, in the context of human mobility, migration is quite often subjected to political, technical and discursive “handling”. Depending on the historical periods and politico-economic set of circumstances, these structural phenomena of humanity are described as an exception, an anomaly or a “problem that requires solution”.
With the rise of the nation-state and, thus, of the correlation of political affiliation with territory and the ensuing proliferation of borders, human mobility has become a significant political issue that reflects national economic health and political stability. Depending on the conjuncture of the moment, migration is considered a phenomenon to encourage and/or impede, in any case is considered something that should be “managed”. The history of migration is full of political operations that have tried to exploit it, control it or direct it towards a particular course.
Migration is also an excellent focal point from which to read the global systemic imbalances. The power relations between countries of emigration and countries of immigration are highlighted by migratory policies, a setting where the countries that have the power to open or close migratory routes are set in contrast to those countries who experience the “departure” of their own citizens both as an internal instability and as a necessary source of income but at the same time difficult to handle.
Human mobility does not happen in an abstract and polarized space where wealth and poverty are the determinants of flows. Rather, there are particular migratory routes that connect two or more countries for various reasons: colonial ties, previous bilateral agreements of foreign manpower employment, military presence, production outsourcing and so on. These are factors that contribute to the creation of transnational migratory spaces within which people, capital, goods, cultural products and imagination flow.
Then there is the phenomenon of those forced to leave their country due to political turmoil, individual or group persecution, conflicts, wars, environmental disasters. These are phenomena that affect mainly the southern part of the world and – notwithstanding the exaggerated media claims – affect northern countries only in a limited extent.
In recent years, with the economic crisis and the expansion of conflicts, migrations are becoming more “turbulent”, difficult to pin down, partly as a consequence of the (partial) closure, militarization and externalization of borders of areas of the planet chosen by migrants as a destination of their migratory project.
Nevertheless, apart from these generically described structural factors, one cannot fail to look at migration also as a subjective experience that involves feelings, memories, geographies, languages, relationships, an experience that is often reluctant to be pigeonholed within institutional classification of types” of migration (economic, forced, environmental).
Such plain visibility of the subjects who experience mobility is actually an amplified and suddenly made visible form of what all human beings experience in their relationship with an external environment that is humanized, politicized, crossed by relationships of power, inequality, solidarity and conflict. Migration acts as an estranger and just makes visible those processes which generally are invisible and, through a context of cultural identification, are considered natural in the place where one is born. Therefore, the narrative of migration is not simply the representation of those who move, rather it is also a depiction of the societies and territories affected by migration.