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The global migration conundrum

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Mass migrations are an issue all over the world. The number of political refugees and displaced persons around the world has now topped 50 million. The total number of migrants has reached a staggering 232 million. What is to be done about it?

At present, the influx of migrants is a major issue for Europeans. Italy, for example, is an entry-point for thousands every week, many fetching up in small boats on the island of Lampedusa (see above) and recently in Sicily. The country presently has a huge number of clandestini, undocumented foreign residents. They're pouring in from Eastern Europe as well. That means bearing the cost of housing, food, medical care and schooling -- if the children actually go to school.

It's an enormous burden, Italians feel it keenly, and there seems to be no end to it. The rest of Europe seems content at present to allow Italy to go it alone, doing little or nothing to help that country cushion the socio-economic blow which, in a sense, it's taking for Europe as a whole. Yet, swimming against the current, Italy went centre-left in the recent elections for the European parliament, besting the politically incoherent Cinque Stelle party and trouncing the far-right Lega Nord.

Judging from those elections, however, a growing chunk of the European population is opting for extreme-right anti-immigration parties -- for example, France's National Front, Hungary's Jobbik, Denmark's People's Party, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Germany's NPD, Austria's Freedom Party and Greece's brutish Golden Dawn.

But this is a symptom, not the disease. The massive waves of migrants awake in Europe the nightmare of its own past, its sorry centuries-old history of conquest and colonization. In the deepest recesses of its collective memory, Europe's guilty conscience has been aroused, spurring a kind of panic. Dr. Jekyll bravely confronts the rampant Mr. Hyde, never suspecting the truth.

If readers want to explore what Europe is truly up against, I would urge them to grind their way through Jean Raspail's cult classic, The Camp of the Saints. It's an excruciating slog for a progressive, to put it mildly, but Raspail presents nothing less than a clinical description of what we might call the Hyde-state: fear, loathing, anger, disgust, the very vocabulary of the unfettered Id. But, as in any work of passion, however malign, there are insights to be gained.

Here the mute presence of Others in vast numbers, set to descend from a rust-bucket ocean convoy on to the shores of France, presents an obviously enormous challenge. What to do, what to do? Absorb them? Impossible -- the numbers are too great, and besides, they might not want to be absorbed. Just shoot them all? Hardened soldiers quail at the prospect, although the narrator darkly hints that this is the only solution. Raspail's savage caricature of humane, centre-left politicians, churchmen and associated do-gooders rings unfortunately true: their decent instincts alone, in the face of a serious demographic crisis, yield only hand-flapping, platitudes and wrong assumptions.

This essay, in part sparked by Raspail's novel, is a sober attempt to grapple with the reality of global population flows and the numerous pressures that they impose. It's worth the read, if for only that reason. Somehow the authors' multi-pronged suggestions for a solution seem like so many shots in the dark, and in any case would require a level of international cooperation that only an extraterrestrial invasion or an approaching asteroid could achieve.

Raspail offers us half the picture, but the dominant Italian response hints at the other half -- a humane attempt to cope, in the face of indifference or hostility from the rest of Europe, motivated by pure compassion but exercised in reality, not from a safe distance. If Raspail stands for the worst conceivable human instincts, the fight-or-flight response of the reptile brain, those of the mayor of Lampedusa and her townspeople exemplify the very best there is on offer. That whole island deserves the Nobel peace prize. But their seemingly limitless generosity will not and cannot resolve the problem of  the demographic tide that is threatening to overwhelm them on a daily basis.

So what is the practical way forward, in the short, medium and long term? I would urge people to read the Atlantic essay and as much of Raspail as they can stomach before engaging in discussion. Goodness knows this global crisis doesn't need any more snap responses.

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