National Geographic 08.2019

(Axel Boer) #1


Humanity in motion


A Kurdish family waits
in a car after fleeing Syria
for Turkey, to escape
an Islamic State advance.
Some 150,000 Syrians—
most of them Kurds—
crossed into Turkey
in one 72-hour period in
September 2014.

FIVE YEARS AGO I spent a few days with
National Geographic Fellow Paul Sal-
opek, a writer who is walking around
the world, retracing the journey begun
when modern humans first left Africa.
Salopek’s walking 21,000 miles; I joined
him for five miles I’ll never forget.
In Şanlıurfa, a dusty town in south-
ern Turkey that is reputed to be the
birthplace of Abraham, we found our-
selves in the middle of a humanitarian
crisis. Everywhere we looked, we saw
Syrian refugees—in throngs on the
streets, in small apartments crammed
with multiple families. We saw peo-
ple unable to find work of any kind,
no matter their skills or education. We
talked with people scared and scarred
by their country’s brutal civil war; we
heard stories of suffering, rape, torture,
and other horrific crimes.
At the time, the United Nations
reported that 51 million people world-
wide had been forcibly displaced, for
reasons ranging from war to economic
hardship. That report declared the 2013
refugee count the highest since World
War II. Unfortunately, the record’s been
broken every year since. The latest UN

report says 68.5 million people had been
forcibly displaced by the end of 2017.
Humankind has always been on the
move, fleeing a peril or searching for
something better. In this month’s issue,
we focus on those migrations, past and
present. Writer Andrew Curry takes us
inside a new science—paleogenetics—
and explains what it’s revealing about
the migrations that have shaped the
populations of modern Europe.
Salopek journeys by choice, unlike
many of the migrants he meets. His
cover story describes the desperation
of those trying to escape war, starva-
tion, disaster: “How strong is the push
to leave? To abandon what you love? To
walk into the unknown with all your
possessions stuffed into a pocket? It
is more powerful than fear of death.”
The World Bank says that by 2050,
the effects of climate change will spur
some 143 million people to migrate. As
one global threat compounds another,
we will continue to provide thorough
and meaningful coverage of these
human journeys.
Thank you for reading National
Geographic. j


Paul Salopek began
his Out of Eden Walk
in 2013. Supported by
the National Geographic
Society and the Knight
Foundation, he’s covering
the major stories of our
time by giving voice to
the people who inhabit
them. Follow him online
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