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.

Who Benefits from the International Arms Trade?

Oliver Ramsay Gray

The arms trade is big business, with global military spending last year totalling just over $1.5 trillion. Although the (legal) international arms market was only a fraction of this, at $83 billion, this still represents a significant market for potential profits. But who really benefits from the international arms trade, and what about the non-financial costs and benefits?

The clearest beneficiaries of the arms trade are, unsurprisingly, arms companies themselves; last year, the largest ten in the US and Europe had revenues of $203 billion (excluding non-military sales), the lion’s share of the international arms business. These international revenues, as David Cameron never fails to insist, contribute jobs and economic prosperity to the exporting country. For instance, the 1985 Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia has brought the UK $45 billion already and could bring in another $40 billion. However, the picture is not as simple as that. A shift in resources and demand over the long-term towards non-military economic sectors would likely bring about greater increases in standards of living. Although a challenging aim, this holds the greatest potential benefits to any exporter and can be seen in the past, for example when military spending fell by over 1% of global GDP in the years following the end of the Cold War. We must recognise that although the arms industry will always benefit from the international arms trade, the idea that the exporting nation inevitably benefits as well, as David Cameron persistently argues, is flawed in the long-term view.

Arms exports can also be used as a political tool, another means by which a state can strengthen strategic relations, bring others under its sphere of influence and project its power into other parts of the world. This is visible in Russia’s relationship with Syria, which has been tied up with the sale of missile defence systems and fighter jets – in part, a means to increase Syria’s dependency on Russia. Recent years in Syria serve to show how these exports have also helped Russia secure its strategic aims in the country by buttressing the Assad regime and so have worked as a type of limited intervention (though this was of course escalated last year). Clearly the exporter benefits in numerous ways here, as does the does the direct recipient, though the picture muddies when wider considerations are taken into account. Was Assad’s strengthening a “beneficial” development?

Arms sales are well known to increase the frequency and intensity of conflict. Even the legal international arms trade is closely tied up in this damaging situation and the costs of conflict are huge in both human and economic terms. This hurts not only those directly involved in conflict but has damaging knock-on impacts around the world. Although war might benefit its few victors politically, its costs are huge to everyone else involved. However, with the current international arms trade system the actions of one state can do little to affect the legal supply or demand for arms. Thus, in terms of the benefits to the exporter laid out above it makes sense for arms exporters to not take a unilaterally moral position. Of course, in the longer term, the benefit shifts towards a situation in which the supply of arms is restricted. However, this can only be achieved at a multi-state level rather than by one state taking it upon themselves.

We can see that it is overwhelmingly arms companies and, to a lesser extent, exporting states who benefit from the international arms trade. The situation is more complex when looking at recipients and considering the wider world. What does seem apparent, however, is that it would be counter to an individual state’s interests to clamp down on its own arms exports unilaterally when, without multi-state agreement, the benefits would shift to other exporters while the damaging impacts of supplying arms remain.

Syrian peace talks suspended

Hubert Cruz

The Syrian peace talks mediated by the United Nations (UN) have been suspended just two days after its commencement. UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, who is responsible for channelling negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition forces, admitted that more work has to be done by all sides before the peace talks reconvene on 25 February.


The breakdown of the peace talks was catalysed by the Syrian Army’s most recent military breakthrough, where they breached a three-year siege of two towns in the Aleppo province with the aid of Russian aerial bombardment. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that represents opposition forces announced they will not be returning to the negotiating table unless there is a cessation of airstrikes and improvement of ground conditions.


Meanwhile Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that its airstrikes against terrorists would continue. Nevertheless, the United States argues that only 10% of Russian bombing has targeted Daesh, with the vast majority striking opposition groups instead. Local human rights organisations and opposition forces also report that Russian airstrikes have extended into civilian areas in the past few days, where refugee camps in the west of the country are being targeted.


What is the way forward for the Syrian peace process? What could the international community do to support the millions who are threatened by airstrikes, starvation and military siege in Syria? Whatever your view, send it in - via Twitter, Facebook or our website. Check out the news articles below to find out more about the issue:


The Guardian – UN suspends Syria peace talks until end of February

Al Jazeera – Syria peace talks plunged into new crisis

The New York Time – Syrian Peace Talks Are Suspended

Our Man in Syria: The Increasing Dangers of International Journalism

Zach Klamann

In the mid-morning light of revolutionary Misrata, Libya, renowned photojournalist Tim Hetherington was in a situation he’d been in too many times to count: trekking through a warzone with other journalists searching for the shot he needed for his story assignment. It was early 2011, so the war was just beginning to intensify across the country, and against his better judgement and usual practice, Hetherington had placed himself very close to the increasingly dangerous fighting. When he and fellow wartime-photojournalist Chris Hondros crossed the street to get a photo of dead rebel soldiers, a mortar landed on them and the rebels with whom they were working. Immediately, the other journalists present rushed the two of them to hospital. Hondros would succumb to his wounds later that day, while Hetherington would bleed out in the arms of legendary Sunday Times war-correspondent Marie Colvin, who would suffer a similar fate just months later in Homs, Syria as Assad forces mortared her compound.

Hetherington and Hondros were in Misrata a month after four New York Times correspondents, including three Pulitzer Prize winners, were kidnapped and beaten by Qaddafi forces before being released. In the coming years, the public beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by Daesh would elicit worldwide horror. But, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Since 2011, 85 journalists have been killed in Syria alone, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Countless others have disappeared and remain missing to this day.

The danger has forced others out of the game or away from the worst of it. Prominent figures like Lynsey Addario, who considers spending months in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan (“The Most Dangerous Place in the World”) with Hetherington and getting kidnapped by Qaddafi’s military normal hazards of her job, now calls not going to Syria a “no-brainer.” Pulitzer Prize winning Esquire and New York Times correspondent CJ Chivers, whose expertise in artillery and munitions helped conclude that forces loyal to Qaddafi were responsible for Hetherington’s and Hondros’ deaths, has retired from war reporting because of its growing danger

All of this helps explain where the trend has led: war reporting is too dangerous for many of the big players. Looking back just ten years, every major publication from the Guardian to Al Jazeera had a bureau in Kabul and one in Baghdad. But, not a single one retains a reporter in Damascus or Misrata, much less a bureau. The risk of having someone kidnapped and paying gigantic sums for his or her release is too great for most companies, especially with the budget constraints of journalism today.

Consequently, freelancers have filled the void where there were once well run, well organized and well paid organisations. For the freelancers themselves, this is often a bad deal. With regular reporters, there are checks, a system in which someone is constantly aware of where they are, what they’re doing and when they should be back in the bureau. Freelancers are rarely given this kind of support, being asked, instead, to simply get the work done. As Richard Pendry put it in the Columbia Journalism Review, ‘News outlets are happy to reap the rewards of dangerous reporting, so long as freelancers shoulder all the responsibility,’ responsibility that, because they don’t have an organisation to fund them, means getting first aid training, protective gear and, crucially, insurance for themselves..

Yet, the allure of war reporting still attracts some journalists — for some it’s the possibility of glory and thrill seeking, but most are really in it to show the atrocities of war. So for these intrepid few, what happens if or when they get to the border?

In the classic model, because visas in war-torn countries are hard to come by, most reporters are smuggled into the country and start paying translator and “fixers” to help them find drivers, places to stay and other basic necessities to take care of them in an environment they don’t know. Often, major publications have access to and knowledge of reliable fixers who can get their reporters to the story safely. This meant that, even in the old model, freelancers had a harder time getting around safely in war zones. Paying for all these people and the petrol and the hotels and the food is expensive, so without a wealthy media organisation’s funding, freelancers have to pay and make connections for themselves.

Syria has made this all the more complicated. In the early days of the revolution, everything was normal, according to foreign correspondent James Harkin. However, he says, this ‘normal’ only works because journalists bring attention to rebel causes and sometimes the abuses of the regime, which, they hope, will bring action from the West. When the help never came to Syria, they found a new purpose for the journalists: kidnappings for ransom.

Yet, while it started with ransom, it didn’t stay that way. When reporters are kidnapped, they aren’t always put up for ransom. Sometimes, they are traded back and forth between rebel groups, transferring between run-down factories and abandoned Roman-era catacombs. All the groups realise the prize of having a westerner, especially an American, so instead of hoping to shine international light on Assad Regime human rights abuses, they use reporters as trading pieces, as Harkin found in his search for the now deceased James Foley and the still missing Austin Tice. This shift in dynamics, in which no one wants the reporters for anything more than currency, has made Syria more dangerous for journalists than Lebanon, or Iraq, or the Balkans or anything else in recent memory.

For those who do make it out, there’s often a toll to be paid. The University of Toronto conducted a study in which they found the rates of depression among journalists were much higher than they had been in Iraq. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is finally being recognised among war reporters and is being seen in many who return from Syria, especially those who have been kidnapped.

All of this has pushed media organisations like the Times, Telegraph and BBC to outlaw the usage of freelancers for their publications. However, many continue to do so when the need for the story is greatest or skirt their own rules by having the freelancer leave the danger area before filing the story, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

For those of us at home, the dangers facing freelancers are also incredibly important. It means, as Uri Friedman put it in Vanity Fair, ‘This century's worst humanitarian crisis is grinding on as a dwindling number of journalists bear witness to its destruction,’ so we ‘rarely see it.’

While millions of migrants race toward Europe and hundreds of thousands die in the fighting, most of the freelancers have bowed out, leaving news organisations to gather what they can from a complex network of verifiable Twitter feeds and Syrian journalists, who often complain that they lack the training, safety or background to do their jobs properly. Yet, the work they do is often the only way we have any idea what is going on in Syria at all, and they face the same risks as foreign journalists, except they don’t have a home to return to in the West.

So, as the US, Russia, Iran and much of the rest of the Middle East funnel fighters and firearms into the desolate country, most of us have little to no idea exactly what’s happening and what our governments are doing because the situation is just too dangerous to send in a journalist who, if he or she survives, will be treated like currency by those he or she paid for protection.

The Missing Voice in the Syrian Civil War

Adam Porter

In international coverage of the ongoing crisis in Syria, there is a surprising absence: Israel. For decades, Israel has been closely identified with the quagmire of Middle Eastern politics: the perpetual tension with Palestine occupying, in the popular imagination, the role of an analogy to the region’s wider problems. Yet if Israel was once the poster-boy for regional strife, it is no longer. That mantle is undoubtedly, and tragically, taken by Syria. Nevertheless, Israel remains conspicuously absent, seemingly disengaged from the crisis on its doorstep.

Disengagement makes sense, however, when one considers the choices before Israel. On the one hand is Daesh, ostensibly the ‘Islamic State’: a death cult committed to the elimination of both the Jewish state, and the Jewish people. On the other hand, the Syrian Government, a long-standing opponent accused of arming Hezbollah, and which still claims territory in the Golan Heights. Israel, in consequence, is content for its many enemies to shed one another’s blood, leaving each either too weak, or else too distracted, to pose a threat.

Unfortunately, this explanation cannot fully capture why Israel remains disengaged. Doubtless western powers are equally content to see Assad and Daesh exhaust themselves in a protracted conflict, but have nonetheless opted to take action. The difference, quite possibly, lies in that unlike Israel, western nations feel an obligation to assist regional partners, especially Iraq, given their deep and contentious involvement in recent conflicts. Israel, bereft of allies, has faced no such call to arms, and has found disengagement more attractive as a consequence.

A further, and perhaps the key, element to the story is domestic. For one, Israelis have not faced attacks by Daesh like those in Tunisia and Paris, and have not been motivated by the resulting clamour for action that was most recently noted in the British parliament. Crucially, Israel has been, and remains still, far more likely to face terrorist attacks planned from Gaza and the West Bank than from Syria. The defining relationship in Israeli foreign affairs (or domestic, depending on one’s perspective) is surely that with Palestine. In consequence, Israel’s overriding priority is domestic security, and Israel’s foreign policy, manifest in what some commentators have called a ‘siege mentality’, is an expression of this desire for security. In this sense, disengagement, neutrality in Syria is not incongruous with Israel’s prominence in the region, but rather consistent with Israel’s long-standing foreign policy, focused on the maintenance of domestic security.

Given Israel’s focus on the domestic, it is unsurprising that they have not as yet decided to intervene in Syria, given that neither Assad, nor Daesh, have yet struck out against Israel. Daesh, however, facing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, increasingly reaches out beyond its borders to inflict violence abroad, with one Israeli official describing a Daesh attack in Israel as ‘Only a matter of time’. This is more likely hyperbole than sense. However, it illuminates a crucial conclusion: that while Israel remains a missing voice in the Syrian crisis at present, events that threaten Israel’s domestic security may yet find this voice being raised.