What About the Children?

Nilen Patel

This is Europe’s quiet crisis. The lives of children are depicted as the most precious. They are meant to be lives to be protected and nurtured. They are supposed to be the future of our societies after all.

However, 96,500 unaccompanied children applied for asylum across Europe in 2015. Over 10,000 of these are unaccounted for or missing.

Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, believes many of these children are working as slaves, on construction sites and farm land or as sex workers. How can we let these children, the most vulnerable and valued members of society, be the ones to be let down by our European politics? In a society governed by numbers, the extent of human trafficking has long since passed the stage in Europe where it should demand attention and response.

Perhaps this is just further evidence of Europe’s ineffective strategy to cope with refugees. UNICEF found that children currently have to wait up to 11 months between registration and transfer to a country that has agreed to accept them. In Sweden up to 10 children are reported missing each week and in Slovenia more than 80 per cent of unaccompanied children went missing from reception centres. The situation is a complex and emotional one, but traffickers are taking advantage of the waves of migrants and operating across Europe due to the weakness of Europe’s child protection system.

Even on a national scale, we are far from rising to the challenge. Just last month the House of Commons defeated an amendment to an immigration bill that would have seen the UK accept 3000 child refugees. The Home Office argued that they were doing enough already to help child refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries. David Cameron maintains that we must ensure that refugees don’t have the incentive to travel across Europe. Yet the National Crime Agency identified that the number of children being trafficked in the UK increased by 46% from last year, so this is a problem that is clearly not diminishing or going to disappear.

What the Home Office failed to acknowledge is that a significant number of these refugees were under 14 years of age, and travelling alone without the protection of adult family members or guardians. As a means to pacify protestors to the UK stance, the government has agreed to fast-track child migrants who have family members in the UK as well as take in children registered in Greece, Italy or France before the refugee deal was created with Turkey. Yet is a fast-track modification of a notoriously slow process actually helpful? Furthermore, this is another act of ostracising the children who need help the most - the ones without parents or guardians. Smugglers and traffickers, meanwhile, are presenting these migrants with “solutions”, an escape route to a better life, far exceeding what the asylum jungle currently offers them.

It is this internal conflict of how to respond that is symbolic of the EU attitude towards this ever-growing crisis. Unaccompanied children just aren’t valued enough by a society hypocritically putting children in that vulnerable and important societal position.

The fact is that the conflict driving this migration isn’t disappearing, meaning it has become a question of humanity to acknowledge the situation and respond as best as possible. We need to counter the “offer” of smugglers and traffickers rather than restricting our borders. The situation they are fleeing from will always provide a greater incentive to migrate than any disincentive David Cameron could ever create.

The crisis of child refugees is a quiet one, but it shouldn’t be this way. There is an incongruence of what we as a society place value on and what our policies place value on. By reassessing what we believe is important and then crucially protecting these values, we can hope to better the situation in Europe.

Europe's Teetering Anchor: the destabilisation of Polish politics and its effect on Europe

On the surface, Poland's parliamentary elections in 2015 seemed to herald a continuation of the progressive and successful political climate that the country has enjoyed in the past few years. 

Poland's politics matter. Its geographical positioning and new-found political clout have made it the anchor between Eastern and Central Europe. Since joining the EU in 2004, the GDP per head in Poland has almost doubled and the country's prosperity, stability, and pro-European leaning in recent years have earned it both respect and sway in European affairs. The recent elections were also only the second in history to have more than three parties with female leadership candidates. Such statistics seemed to augur well for Poland's political future. 

In fact, the crushing victory for the Law and Justice Party (PiS) that resulted from October's elections has sent out tremors across Europe. Seismic waves of political instability have left social, cultural, political, and economic spheres shaken in Poland and beyond. 

The origins of the PiS find their roots in the anti-communist Solidarity trade union. The party favours an overtly conservative orientation and its success heralds a distinct swing to the right in Poland's politics. Founded by Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński in 2001, the party claims to be the champion of the Catholic Church in Poland. It opposes any legal recognition of same-sex couples and, in 2005, Jarosław Kaczyński publicly stated that, though homosexuals should not be isolated, they should nevertheless, "not be school teachers for example. Active homosexuals surely not, in any case". Mr Kaczynski also warns against the dangers of immigration and the influence of Islam on society, even going so far as to claim that Muslim migrants “carry diseases”.

Aside from regression in social policy, the PiS's success also seems a harbinger of regression in political and personal freedom. In an attempt to consolidate power, the PiS has sacked the heads of Poland's intelligence and security services, replacing them with reliable supporters. Moreover, on December 31st, the Polish government dismissed managers of the public television and radio broadcasters, TVP1 and Polskie Radio, promptly giving its own treasury minister the power to appoint their successors. In protest, since January 1st, Poland’s Radio 1 has been playing the Polish national anthem and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (the anthem of the EU) alternately every hour. The image on the cover of Polish Newsweek of an eagle (Poland's national symbol) smashed and accompanied by the caption “The rape of Poland” aptly summed up the implications for the social liberty of a nation which had to wait till the 1990s to be permitted democracy.  Despite earning itself 18th position, ahead of the US, Britain, and France, in the index of World Press Freedom in 2015, Poland now faces widespread criticism from international freedom of speech groups. 

The effect on Poland's environmental policy has also proved negative. The new government is severely opposed to Europe’s climate policies and, despite the fact that 85% of the country's electricity is already supplied by coal-fired power stations, the PiS is obstinately set on building even more.

Previously one of Europe's greatest economic hopes, Poland's financial success in recent years may be jeopardized by the PiS's new policies. The solvency of the previous government is threatened by the PiS's plans to start paying child benefits to parents, to offer those over 75 free medication, and to reduce the retirement age. Clearly aimed at building on the PiS's ageing and conservative support base, these concessions not only overlook the poorest and most needy in Poland in favour of conservative loyalists, but also threaten Poland's recent economic growth.

The consequences for the refugee crisis also give the EU reason to fear. Plans by the European Commission to redistribute migrants across the EU faced opposition by many Eastern European countries, particularly Hungary. An agreement between the EU and the Eastern European nations was achieved only thanks to the support of Poland. But with the PiS in power, and their preoccupation with Polish rather than European concerns, the stability of this agreement is beginning to crumble. The recent upheavals in Poland's political situation therefore appear to be threatening to destabilise the EU's anchor in Eastern Europe, possibly even deepening the East-West divide in Europe. The future of Poland will bear on Europe as a whole, yet only time will tell what bearing this may be.  

Foreign Policy: the View from Oxford Student Green Party

Matthew Hull, writing from the Oxford Student Green Party

Strategy in international relations, though informed by our ideological tendencies, has the considerable ability to divide otherwise tight political movements. The Green Party values pluralism in democracy: and a poor pluralist I should make if I claim to speak on behalf of a whole party. Nor will my piece be all-encompassing; I hope, however, that my musings give pause for thought and room for a somewhat Green approach.

Over the next Parliament, we will face threats and challenges considerable in number and variety.

Integral to our response remains our membership of the European Union. As threats become more and more acute, action must be international in scope. Climate change, refugee crises, protection of civil liberties, and of territorial integrity: some of the biggest demographic challenges to come must be faced by Europe as a whole, not by individual nations seeking individual objectives. Only with committed political union will common objectives be met with the requisite political will; Britain should be proud to fight this fight.

The EU is distant, technocratic, and startlingly undemocratic”

The nature of the Union, however, is an imperfect one. The EU is distant, technocratic, and startlingly undemocratic. Brussels' lobbying industry is huge and oversight is poor; MEPs are unable to table legislation individually, only as part of committees populated by civil servants and business representatives. MEPs themselves are elected in poorly attended midterm elections which serve more as an indication of dissatisfaction with Westminster than of engagement with Brussels. European legislation undergoes little to no scrutiny by domestic press or people. For example, TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, threatens to sail through as though it were a mere footnote, rather than a huge blow to the balance of transatlantic investor-state relations.

The EU must be smaller in apparatus and must more directly involve our elected central government, while maintaining breadth of scope to tackle social problems. I find myself stuck between a Eurosceptic bloc which threatens more harm than good, and a Europhile bloc timidly afraid of criticising the system as we have it. Thankfully there is hope that, with the rise of reformist parties around Europe, we can deliver the Europe I want. I support an EU referendum so that we can remain on the right terms.

The most recent and obvious test of European political will is the current refugee crisis. Our government's eventual response was straightforwardly predictable and disappointing. To accept refugees from and deliver aid to camps close to Syria is no bad thing; to argue that it should be done to the exclusion of those who have travelled to Europe in the absence of any such offer is to misdirect attention. Such a response might have been proportionate in months and years past. The fact remains, however, that traffickers have profited from the International Community's inaction, and to shed responsibility for what has been allowed to spill over into Europe is inexcusable. Nor indeed is it right to abandon Hungary, Croatia and other European allies less equipped to deal with the crisis to a fate no more of their doing than of ours. 

Syria itself is an important litmus test for the future of Western direction in Middle Eastern politics. It is important that our moves represent the lessons learnt from past involvement; crucial, however, that our response is formulated for the world as it is, and that our efficacy now is not confounded by outside geopolitical motives.

I am saddened, therefore, that the 70th UN Summit has been used as a platform from which for various leaders to grandstand and appear immovable. It is sad, but true, that we are unlikely to be able to remove Bashar Al-Assad. It is equally true that if support of Assad is unqualified and exclusive of, or harmful to, other groups then we risk galvanising Islamist feeling and IS support. Britain and the US must, I believe, appeal to the common threat of violent Islamic fundamentalism in order to get Russia's ear; then we must seriously attempt to have American- and Russian-supported groups suspend their disagreements and cooperate. Only then have we the best chance of threatening IS territory; however it remains to be seen how or whether any of this can be delivered.

Clearly, no strategy is going to be perfect: the state of the Middle East today is a direct result of our tacit support for sectarian governments like Assad's, and we clearly cannot escape this position with one easy step. Whatever ensues, we must ensure that it is the UN is at the centre of forward planning not individual states manoeuvring for domestic political gain. Coherent international strategy requires cooperative work.

our continued membership of NATO is valuable to Britain and indeed to the world”

The shifting state of play in Syria and across the world obviously lends defence an increased importance. In my opinion, defence spending is an important fiscal multiplier and used properly can revolutionise our ability to deter and where necessary fight conflict. For this reason, I believe that our continued membership of NATO is valuable to Britain and indeed to the world. It sees that the United States and others listen to Britain as a second opinion and a test of American Foreign Policy in Western Europe; it magnifies the importance of our experience and expertise in theatres of conflict. Likewise democratic NATO members must be confident of our support: the 2% spending target is a big factor in demonstrating this.

But in maintaining that commitment we must use it properly: to direct and advise our allies; to recognise Britain's position in the world as it is. I believe it is time to recognise that Trident is strategically and politically useless, and prohibitively costly. Its independence is illusory, since we require American-built and leased Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles as a warhead delivery system. We maintain Trident at the generosity of the United States, without whose support such weapons could not be applied. It limits more pertinent means of defence: ensuring that we have a Blue-Water Navy with sufficient Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft to provide air support; improving cyber-defences; fully equipping Typhoon jets as strike aircraft. In these ways, we might ably assist our allies without insisting on a thermonuclear status-symbol which is, realistically speaking, an extension of US military power. Most importantly, by redoubling support for military cooperation but stepping back from a weapon which doesn't befit us, we are in better stead to argue against nuclear proliferation worldwide and banish WMDs completely.

Reliably Unreliable: The EU's Continued Inaction is a Bad Sign

Rose Vennin

Suddenly summoned to react after the shocking picture of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi impassioned citizens to demand a political response, European governments gave the disheartening impression last week of being faced with an unpredictable tsunami which had caught them unawares, and to which a clear response was nowhere to be seen. Yet this crisis comes as no surprise. Since the beginning of 2015, 2500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean while making their journey to Europe, and the on-going crisis has been subject to much discussion during the numerous summits this year. Until now, the European Union seemed to be muddling along, trying - and failing - to reach a consensus among its divided nations, measures taken woefully inadequate for the scale of the crisis. The June summit was such a display of bad-tempered exchanges between the national leaders of Europe with, among others, Italian PM Matteo Renzi reportedly saying “if this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it”, following bitter exchanges with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. 

Two months later, the bickering has not ended and Europe’s leaders were yet again at odds over the collective response in the face of pressing public concern. In a letter last Friday, France, Italy and Germany’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs called for “a fair distribution of refugees” throughout the EU. They stated "Europe must protect refugees in need of protection in a humane way - regardless of which EU country they arrive in." In contrast, the Visegrad states - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia – affirmed their opposition to quotas of refugee relocation between countries at a meeting the same day, exemplifying the discordance that has been reigning for what seems to be too long (if not between these particular countries, then between others).

Indeed what this past week has shed light upon are, once again, the limits of current EU politics and frame of mind. As pressure on member states to come up with a coordinated plan mounts and will continue to rise as more refugees and economic migrants arrive, there is an evident lack of leadership, unity and vision. The long-term challenge for Europe is managing crises: the migrant crisis is one example of a larger issue with the union’s institutions and framework. As with Greece and the Euro crisis, the EU never appears to live up to its citizens’ expectations, moving sluggishly and in cacophony. 

So if Europe cannot actively come up with coherent responses to the challenges it faces, its durability may be threatened. Although there may be an underlying determination from EU leaders to hold the union together, it must be strongly displayed in contrast to their weak performance this summer, or repeated divisions and passiveness will get the better of it. Stumble after stumble, Europe needs to pick itself up once and for all.  Lives depend on it.

A Swarm? Calm down and get some perspective

Will Yeldham

David Cameron recently sparked outrage with human rights activists lampooning both his rhetoric and Britain's policy on refugees. The media backlash did have a tinge of hyperbole about it and overlooked his more reasoned comments urging the prosecution of criminals trafficking both children and refugees. However, it is undeniable that as prime minister he must choose his words more carefully and not further the hostile rhetoric surrounding the issue.

What's more worrying is the stark difference between his recent statement and beliefs he espoused 2 years ago: “I believe that immigration has brought significant benefits to Britain, from those who’ve come to our shores seeking a safe haven from persecution to those who’ve come to make a better life for themselves and their families, and in the process they have enriched our society by working hard, taking risks and creating jobs and wealth for the whole country”. So what's changed? Well British political opinion to the EU for one thing. The principal problem is that this unhelpful language is continuing to cloud and disfigure the realities of the issue for the British public. Many members of the British press and government implicitly or explicitly classify many of those wishing to reach the UK as migrants as opposed to refugees.

Leaving rhetoric aside there is the more immediate problem that Britain is simply not pulling its weight in allaying the Europe-wide crisis. Any notion of helping Italy, which has been struggling to accommodate the 63,000 refugees that have arrived by sea, is caught up in the ongoing debate of Britain's position in the EU which, with the upcoming referendum, is coming to a head. When one looks at the numbers, Britain's ethical position is essentially indefensible. So far this year, more than 180,000 migrants have reached Greece and Italy by sea (others come from Turkey via the land border with Bulgaria). In Calais there are just shy of 3000.

Of course, people ask 'Well what about the next 3000’, and more refugees will come, but is it Britain's duty to stand quibbling on the sidelines of Europe, leaving countries such as Greece and Italy, far less able to process and accommodate migrants, in the lurch? UN Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland argued just this in his statement that the UK should take more migrants as part of a “fair” solution to the problem, saying that “at the moment there is a huge disparity in the numbers that different countries are taking. On any basis, the Germans and the Swedes are taking far more per capita than the United Kingdom.” Many asylum seekers head for Germany, which in 2014 had more than 200,000 applicants. Sweden's next, with 81,000, then Italy, France and Hungary. Britain is way down the list, with only 32,000.

The most recent decision of the British Government to opt out of a voluntary scheme to resettle thousands of refugees arriving in Europe drew criticism from around the world and rightly so. The heated talks at the EU summit in Brussels saw European leaders endeavouring to formulate a solution to the Mediterranean migrant crisis. Whilst a proposal for mandatory quotas was rejected, EU countries agreed on a voluntary intake scheme. In order to relieve the pressure from southern European countries, members agreed to resettle 40,000 refugees now in Italy and Greece and another 20,000 people currently outside the EU. However, David Cameron's government has opted out. Just as depressing has been the range of headlines from tabloid papers calling for the Prime Minister to 'send in the army'. Luckily, home secretary Theresa May rejected calls for this ludicrous policy. Nevertheless, Britain must start pulling its weight, accept the voluntary intake scheme, engage in meaningful dialogue with the EU and most importantly place the humanitarian plight of refugees over short term political appeasement.