World on the move

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Dreams of Leaving. BBC World Service. 648kHz MW. Saturdays 11.30am. Rpt Mondays 10.30pm. Ends October 17. Age range: 11+

The history of migration is as old as humankind. We are all descended from migrants: our ancestors evolved in Africa and spread to every corner of the globe.

In this series, writer and presenter John Pickford weaves an elegant picture, moving back and forth between migrant groups of today, and those who left their homes 100,000 years ago.

In the process, he sets the record straight on who migrants are and why they move, often under dangerous circumstances. The first programme of the six-parter opens in Tijuana, Mexico, one of the poorest cities in the western hemisphere, sitting on the border with the richest country on the planet. A few miles away, would-be migrants and US border patrol guards play cat and mouse, each side instinctively understanding the position of the other.

Another migrant, a Ugandan playwright called Vincent Magombe, was attending the premi re of one of his plays when four armed men burst into the theatre and put a gun to his head. The trigger was pulled but, miraculously, the gun did not fire. Vincent left his homeland. "The real tragedy of being in exile, " he says, "is that you lose sight of anything you can call home."

Anthropologists and historians shed light on mass migrations and their effect on the host community. Delhi serves as a prime example of a demographic magnet. Every two decades the population doubles, largely due to migration. Each day, 8,000 people arrive in the city from different parts of India. It's a worldwide phenomenon. "As many as 100 million people may be on the move in China alone, compared with a total flow of about 53 million to the United States over three centuries," says Pickford.

The move from the macro to the micro prevents the listener from losing sight of the often elusive fact that those huge figures are comprised of individuals. Donna Tisdale, a San Diegan whose farm is near the Mexican border, never forgets that fact. "On a typical day, we'll find a group of 20 or 30 men running through our property, to the sound of our neighbours' guns going off. When I look into their eyes, I understand them. Sometimes you want to let them go."

But, for the US government, compassion has given way to protectionism. "Wow, we got 'em! Ha ha ha," exclaims a border guard as yet another group of Mexicans is arrested trying to enter California.

Although the series is not supported with a schools pack, it could still make an excellent cross-curricular resource, complementing key stage 3 geography, history and development education.

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