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Francis & the Camp of the Saints

Europe's migrant crisis -- and the papal remarks about it -- recall 1973 novel

Oh, Pope:

Pope Francis on Wednesday called for respect for migrants and suggested that “people and institutions” who close doors to them should seek forgiveness from God.

The pope’s appeal, made at the end of his weekly general audience, came amid growing debate in Europe on how to deal with an immigrant crisis that has included clashes at the French-Italian border between police and migrants.

“I invite you all to ask forgiveness for the persons and the institutions who close the door to these people who are seeking a family, who are seeking to be protected,” he said in unscripted remarks delivered in a somber voice.

France and Austria have stepped up border controls on migrants coming from Italy, turning back hundreds and leaving growing numbers camped out in train stations in Rome and Milan.

A Northern League politician asked sarcastically, “Out of curiosity, how many immigrants are there in the Vatican State?”

This is a difficult moral issue, and I think the pope is mostly on the wrong side of it. On the one hand, it’s certainly true that the first duty of a humane person when faced with someone fleeing war or persecution is to feed and shelter them. But the human tide coming out of Africa and the Middle East threatens to swamp Europe.  How are European countries supposed to preserve their welfare states when hundreds of thousands of poor migrants, many without skills, arrive seeking benefits, in nations without jobs to offer them?

And what about migrants who are coming not because they are desperately poor, or fleeing war and oppression, but because they want to live in more material comfort than they have back home. The Wall Street Journal examines the migrant population leaving Senegal for Europe. Excerpt:

Less than a month after mourning a neighbor killed on the 3,000-mile migrant trail to Europe, Ibrahima Ba set off on the same treacherous road.

The 27-year-old was supposed to build a future in this stable corner of rural Africa, using money sent from his father in France to raise bulls and sell diesel fuel. But in March, as chaos in Libya eased a pathway to the Mediterranean, Mr. Ba gambled he could make a better life, selling the cattle to buy a ticket along the world’s deadliest migrant route and joining the largest global migration wave since World War II.

In April, Mr. Ba’s family mourned him, too: they believe he drowned alongside 700 migrants aboard a trawler that tipped into the sea, the worst in a series of tragedies that shocked Europe and triggered frantic diplomacy to rethink European immigration laws.

At least 1,840 have died on the crossing from Libya to Italy so far this year, following 3,200 known deaths last year, the International Organization for Migration says.

“He didn’t lack for anything, he had everything he needed,” said Mr. Ba’s mother, Awa Diop. “But he wanted to have his own means.”

He lacked for nothing back home, but he wanted to do better for himself in Europe. One can understand that desire, but why should Europe make room for a young man who simply wants to get richer than he could back home, in his own country?

Why is it wrong for a nation to wish to defend its borders? Seriously, at what point does the moral duty of charity to refugees end, and the duty one has to one’s own family and countrymen take precedence? I don’t know what the answer to that question is, but the pope ought to be thinking about it and talking about it, because the situation with migrants to Europe is only going to get much worse over the decades to come. To show what’s at stake in Europe’s migrant crisis, Steve Sailer made the chart below using United Nations figures. He says this is the “world’s most important graphic”:

sailer graf

It may be time to read Jean Raspail’s controversial 1973 apocalyptic novel The Camp of the Saints. In a 1994 cover piece in The Atlantic, Matthew Connelly and Paul Kennedy examined the book, which imagines a future in which huge numbers of Third Worlders decide to migrate to Europe en masse, and overwhelm the borders. From the article:

But it is not the huddled mass of Indians, with their “fleshless Gandhi-arms,” that is the focus of Raspail’s attention so much as the varied responses of the French and the other privileged members of “the camp of the saints” as they debate how to deal with the inexorably advancing multitude. Raspail is particularly effective here in capturing the platitudes of official announcements, the voices of ordinary people, the tone of statements by concerned bishops, and so on. The book also seems realistic in its recounting of the crumbling away of resolve by French sailors and soldiers when they are given the order to repel physically–to shoot or torpedo–this armada of helpless yet menacing people. It would be much easier, clearly, to confront a military foe, such as a Warsaw Pact nation. The fifty-one (short) chapters are skillfully arranged so that the reader’s attention is switched back and forth, within a two-month time frame, between the anxious debates in Paris and events attending the slow and grisly voyage of the Calcutta masses. The denouement, with the French population fleeing their southern regions and army units deserting in droves, is especially dramatic.

One can imagine what Raspail, who is about to turn 90, thinks of Pope Francis’s chastising. Connelly and Kennedy, writing in The Atlantic, say that you might find the language and ideas in Raspail’s novel offensive, but he points to important problems that are not easy to resolve:


Let us now get to the heart of the matter. Readers may well find Raspail’s vision uncomfortable and his language vicious and repulsive, but the central message is clear: we are heading into the twenty-first century in a world consisting for the most part of a relatively small number of rich, satiated, demographically stagnant societies and a large number of poverty-stricken, resource-depleted nations whose populations are doubling every twenty-five years or less. The demographic imbalances are exacerbated by grotesque disparities of wealth between rich and poor countries. Despite the easy references that are made to our common humanity, it is difficult to believe that Switzerland, with an annual average per capita income of about $35,000, and Mali, with an average per capita income of less than $300, are on the same planet–but Raspail’s point is that they are, and that a combination of push and pull factors will entice desperate, ambitious Third World peasants to approach the portals of the First World in ever-increasing numbers. The pressures are now much greater than they were when Raspail wrote, not only because we’ve added 1.5 billion people to our planet since the early 1970s, but also, ironically, because of the global communications revolution, which projects images of Western lifestyles, consumer goods, and youth culture across the globe. Ambitious peasants no longer need a messianic untouchable to urge them to leave by boat for Europe; they see the inducements every day on their small black-and-white television sets.

What would you do if you were the Italian prime minister? The French premier? Look at that graphic. We may well see Raspail’s novel come true in our lifetime.

UPDATE: Nicholas Farrell, writing in the Spectator, delves into the mindless sentimentalism at work in exacerbating this crisis. Excerpts:

Let us suppose that along the coast of Normandy up to one million non-EU migrants are waiting to be packed like sardines in small unseaworthy vessels and to cross the English Channel.

Let us suppose that first the Royal Navy, then the navies of a dozen other EU countries, start to search for all such vessels in the Channel right up to the French coast, out into the North Sea and the Atlantic even, and then ferry all the passengers on board to Dover, Folkestone, Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton in a surreal modern-day never-ending version of the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. Would the British government agree to take them all? What of the British people? And if they did agree, what would the British government and people do with all the migrants? How would they cope?

This is exactly what Italy is dealing with now, as migrants flood across the Mediterranean from lawless Libya. The left-wing Italian government decriminalized illegal immigration, and brings all the migrants to “welcome centers.” There they can apply for political asylum in Italy, but most do not. If they don’t leave and disappear into Europe, they stay in the centers, each one costing Italian taxpayers nearly 13,000 euros per year.

Farrell points out that contrary to the impression the media give, very few migrants landing in Italy are from war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria. They are mostly young, male, sub-Saharan Africans seeking economic opportunity, not refugees. And most of them are Muslims, stoking fears that terrorists will try to infiltrate Europe in the migrant tide. Italy is in its sixth year of recession, “with an official unemployment rate of 13 per cent (the real rate is probably 20 per cent) and the youth unemployment rate at a staggering 43 per cent).”


Recently, Nick Cooke-Priest, captain of the British vessel involved in the rescut mission, HMS Bulwark, told reporters that “the indications are that there are 450,000 to 500,000 migrants in Libya who are waiting” to reach Italy. The head of the EU’s border agency says the number is even higher, perhaps as many as a million.

… Pope Francis said last month that leaving the boat people to drown (about 3,500 are known to have died last year, and already nearly 2,000 this year) is “an attack against life” akin to abortion. All of us feel it to be our moral duty to save lives where we can. Yet it cannot be our moral duty to ferry such vast numbers across the Mediterranean into Italy and Europe for ever, unless they are genuine refugees. In fact, our moral duty is not to do so — and the only solution is the one which few politicians dare even talk about, let alone implement: that the navies of the EU should stop the ferry service and start a blockade of Libya.

Read the whole thing.



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