Luis Rubio

People migrate for any number of reasons, and have done so for millennia: climate, the search for opportunities, fear, and insecurity. Sonia Shah* explains that the prototypical migrant tends to be the kind of people who don’t have big bank accounts or landholdings, but are rich in good health, skills, education and social connections with people in other places. Nobody doubts the contributions that migrants make to the societies in which they settle or the benefits to their communities of origin but, says Shah, the relevant question to ask as massive waves of migrants take shape is not why people migrate, for migration is a force of nature, rooted in human biology and history. “The relevant question to ask is what are we going to do about it.” This question is key as migration became a powerful force behind Trump’s victory and Brexit.

One should always have one’s boots on and be ready to leave

Michel de Montaigne, 1580

A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts, and most of us never dreamed of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term refugee has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by refugee committees. Before the war broke out, we were even more sensitive about being called refugees. We did our best to prove… that we were just ordinary immigrants.

Hanna Arendt, 1943

A stranger always has his homeland in his arms like an orphan for which he may be seeking nothing but a grave

Nelly Sachs, 1959

Migration isn’t a one-directional process; it’s a colossal process that has been happening in all directions for thousands of years

Moshin Hamid, 2017

I am not an Athenian or Greek but a citizen of the world

Socrates, c 420bc

Emigration is easy, but immigration is something else. To flee, yes; but to be accepted?

Victoria Wolff, 1943

Those who go overseas find a change of climate, not a change of soul

Horace, c20bc

The first thing that a new migrant sends to his family back home isn’t money; it’s a story

Suketu Mehta, 2019

Better free in a strange land than a slave at home

German proverb

All of man’s unhappiness stems from one thing, his inability to stay quietly in one room

Blaise Pascal, c 1660

Here everyone is equal. There are no poor, no rich. He spouts names like Columbus, Shakespeare, and Buckle and big words I don’t understand like civilization. He wants to write a song about them but has no ink, pen, or paper. My brother Elyahu tells me that if he doesn’t like this country, he can go back.

Sholem Aleichem, 1916

In 1937 the Dewey Commission conducted and investigation into the charges against Leon Trotsky made during Joseph Stalin’s Moscow show trials. “Of what country are you a citizen, Mr. Trotsky?” the commission asked. “I am deprived of my citizenship in the Soviet Union. I am not a citizen of any country,” Trotsky replied. “What, if anything, did you do when you were informed of the deprivation of your citizenship?” “I wrote an article about it,” he said. I am a man armed with a pen.”

Migration has been politicized before it has been analyzed

Paul Collier, 2015

In June 2021 the city of San Antonio inaugurated its North American Friendship Garden, a rest stop for migrating monarch butterflies featuring native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. The garden’s aim is “the friendship and goodwill of three countries working toward common goals,” one city official said. “As a migratory insect, the monarch is a representative of migration.”

Shrimps may dance, but they do not leave the river

Japanese proverb

In 1639 Puritan settlers in Massachusetts authorized the expulsion of “pauper aliens” in what is thought to be the first case of deportations in the country. Soon after, Virginia and Pennsylvania passed laws heavily restricting “the importation of paupers,” which included criminals and “foreigners and Iris servants.”

Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Emma Lazarus, 1883

According to an Aztec myth, the war god Huitzilopochtli sent a group of Mexica on a journey to establish the new center of the world. After some two hundred years of wandering, they saw an eagle resting on a cactus with its “wings stretched outward like the rays of the sun.” Taking the bird to be a divine sign that they had reached their destination, they “began to weep and dance about with joy and contentment.”


Heaven and earth and all things change and transform into something new every day

Guo Xiang, c300

Human migration is unstoppable and, given the vast and growing differences between Southern and Northern nations, it is bound to keep growing. The big question is whether it can become orderly to serve and complement each other’s needs.


*The Next great Migration, Bloomsbury, 2020


Happy New Year!