Reports from the House of Lords’ EU Select Committee are not normally tear-jerkers. It is difficult, however, to get through their review of the care – or lack of it – afforded to unaccompanied migrant children without being moved and angry.
Moved, that is, because the case studies of vulnerable children from tragically war-ravaged or failing states such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea expose the disbelief, neglect and abuse that children and young people routinely experience. Even if some of the children and adolescents lied about their age, even if they were merely sent on ahead by the unscrupulous to gain the right for their families to join them later on, even if they were guilty of petty crime to survive on the streets, none deserve the attention of the people traffickers and sexual exploiters they endured during the journey to Europe and, unforgivably, when they arrived in the supposedly safe environs of the EU. The Lords report, however, finds that there is no evidence of such practices – so-called “anchors” – in any case.
Unaccompanied child refuges are, in other words, exactly what they appear to be: in despair and running for their lives.
The Lords’ report is an unusually thorough and comprehensive piece of work. It deserves to be taken very seriously. The sheer scale of the problem is revealed in an unusually emotive run of statistics.
Some 50 per cent of unaccompanied children have a sexually transmitted infection, possibly gained in transit. A total of 88,245 found asylum in the EU last year, up about a half on the previous year. Of these, a modest 3,045 wound up in Britain, as a result of the relaxation of policy by the Cameron government, under intense pressure from its own supporters, especially in the House of Lords. Of the hundreds of thousands of children who have come to Europe, about 10,000 are simply missing. There aren’t even photographs of many of them, so tracing them is all but hopeless.
And 137 children drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean. It is, as the report states, the greatest humanitarian emergency to hit Europe’s frontiers since the foundation of the European Communities in 1957. The modern European Union, its member states and its local authorities have all failed miserably at every stage of the cycle. They haven’t been able to count the numbers of refugees properly (the numbers quoted by European and national agencies have a certain spurious degree of accuracy attached to them). They have not been able to house them in decent conditions, more often than not allowing them to stave or be raped in squalid camps. They will not work together on a sensible allocation of numbers between countries.
There is little system for fostering or guardianship. It is a mess. If a critic of the European Union wanted an example of where 28 supposed “partners” were engaged in a stampede of self-interest, they need look no further than abandonment of these children. As the report drily notes, there is a total “lack of solidarity” across the continent. Here, in one of the richest corners of the planet, the home of civilised and liberal values technologically advanced and able to send men and women into space, we turn a blind eye to child rape. Austria, France and Slovenia are apparently especially neglectful and selfish.
Anger is the right reaction to all this; apathy the more likely one in too many quarters.
With few exceptions – Germany and Sweden stand out as beacons of decency – European governments have hoped the problem would go away of they ignored it long enough. They showed little inclination to help hard-pressed “reception” states such as Malta, Greece and Italy, and cannot, or will not, do anything about the innate hostility of their own populations, for fear of political damage.
If its record in recent years is anything to go by, the EU will issue declarations, appoint commissioners and generate directives, which will then be ignored by nation states. So much for the European “superstate”; so feeble it cannot look after a parentless 10-year-old.
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