When nations fail to such a degree that the lives of their people can no longer be sustained at any reasonably bearable level, the distress is almost certain to be felt beyond the immediately afflicted area.
That is the situation now confronted by Italy, Spain, France and England — virtually overwhelmed by the tide of desperate migrants flooding northward out of Africa and the Middle East in the hope of escaping the hunger, poverty, armed conflicts and tyrannical rule that rob them of hope in their native lands.
More than 2,500 luckless souls have died this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded and fragile boats. Others were slain by the smugglers who charged outrageous fees to attempt the journey.
My one ocean crossing was more than 50 years ago — a comfortable seven-day voyage aboard a Dutch liner, the Ryndam, from New York to the English Channel and then by ferry across the channel from Dover to the French port city of Calais.
Mine was a trip for learning and pleasure. The pitiable wave of humanity washing up on the southern coast of Europe is driven by a need far more elemental — the hope of finding safety, compassionate support and a possibility of employment that would free them from the poverty, corruption and predatory misrule that characterize the lands from which they’ve fled.
Quite understandably, the governments and people of Europe are not pleased with the massive foreign influx.
The 1994 completion of the 31-mile passenger and freight tunnel under the English Channel — linking Calais, France, with Folkestone on the English side — added a new dimension to the migrant problem.
For most of the illegal immigrants who succeed in reaching Europe’s shores, England is seen as the most promising destination. The result has been the creation of large refugee encampments not far from the tunnel’s Calais entrance, effectively blocking access by freight and passenger traffic.
Our family made that trip once in the mid-’90s not long after the project’s completion at a cost of 4.6 billion British pounds.
What used to be a time-consuming ferry crossing now can be accomplished by passenger rail service, in trains traveling at 99 miles per hour, 790 feet below the water’s surface.
As is especially evident in France, with its large population of immigrant Muslims, but also in other parts of the continent, the presence of significant numbers of people with different dress, different customs, different languages and different religious faiths can greatly complicate the task of governance.
In short, the crippling absence of responsible leadership in Third World dictatorships — often in places of little strategic or geopolitical importance — can create profound challenges in cities half a world away. It’s a problem for which no long-term solution is evident.