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The shame of Europe

The problem of the 720.000 Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947 has not yet been solved (understatement). Should the way these refugees were and are treated however become the template for how we treat the Syrian refugees? The Economist gives an answer. No.

From The economist

Unaccompanied children are the neediest kind of refugee

In 1939, at great personal risk, an English stockbroker rescued 669 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Nicholas Winton travelled to Prague, helped the children onto trains and battled with his own country’s bureaucrats to have them admitted to Britain. Among those he saved from the gas chambers was Alf Dubs, now a Labour peer, who is pressing Britain’s government to grant asylum to refugee children in Europe without their parents.

He has met stout resistance. On April 25th the House of Commons, including nearly all MPs from the ruling Conservative Party, voted against Lord Dubs’s proposal to admit 3,000 of these children. After an outcry from various charities, on May 4th the prime minister, David Cameron, relented somewhat. Reversing his previous stance that Britain would take refugees directly only from the region around Syria, he said that the country would take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from European camps. That is a start. But neither Britain nor the rest of Europe has done nearly enough to provide proper homes for the 90,000 unaccompanied refugees under the age of 18 who made their way to the European Union last year. They do not face the same peril that Lord Dubs once did, but their plight is dire. Many are in squalid camps in Italy and Greece. Hundreds are in the lawless “jungle” of Calais. By one estimate 10,000 have gone missing in the past two years. Many end up sleeping rough, or turning to prostitution or theft to get by. Others are underfed or unwell, and desperate to be in school. These are not adults who can look after themselves. They need help.

Sweden and Germany have taken the largest number, though both countries are getting stricter. France and Spain have taken hardly any. Opponents of granting asylum to these children make three main arguments. First, it is hard to tell if they are all really minors. Second, letting them stay would spur more children to undertake the hazardous voyage across the Mediterranean. Third, granting them legal papers would allow their parents to come and join them.
Did some refugees lie about their age? Of course, and it is indeed hard to check—few packed their birth certificates when fleeing the barrel-bombs. But most are plainly children.

Would granting asylum to children already in Europe prompt more to board leaky boats? Perhaps, but probably not many. Since the European Union struck a deal with Turkey on March 18th, it has become far harder for refugees to cross the sea to Greece. Future asylum-seekers are likely to be screened while still in Turkey or Jordan, thus avoiding a potentially lethal voyage and the vast fares charged by people-traffickers. Will Syrian parents seek to rejoin their children? One certainly hopes so. In many cases, however, the parents are dead. In the meantime, this is a humanitarian crisis, so politicians should err on the side of generosity. Supporting a few thousand more foster parents would not cost much.

Granting asylum to the 90,000 unaccompanied children should not be a substitute for letting in more adult refugees. Nor should Europe stint in offering aid to help refugees in Turkey and Jordan find jobs (see article). The refugee crisis must be tackled on several fronts, over several years. In the short term, however, the least Europeans can do is to keep the lost children of Syria safe.

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