Europeans love to bash America, and such snobbery usually is deployed to conceal very real, and very deep, flaws. Europe stood aghast at President Donald Trump’s clumsy travel ban. Britain’s parliamentary speaker even declared that The Donald would not be welcome to address the House of Commons. And yet—oblivious to the hypocrisy of it all—the U.K. in collusion with France has just canceled a scheme called the Dubs Amendment set up to provide safe passage for child refugees.
And so as America learned of the 3-0 decision from the 9th District Appeals Court striking down Trump’s travel ban, the U.K. was busily deporting 50 unaccompanied children a day, sending them back “into the arms of smuggler and trafficker gangs, and back into modern slavery,” the chair of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, Yvette Cooper MP said, in the slum camps around Calais and Dunkirk.
With French support, Prime Minister Theresa May has doubled-down. She knows that nobody can legally stop her from forcing this measure through. The party with the majority in Parliament forms our government, by default. Our legislature is our executive branch. While America proves once again that at least it benefits from the separation of powers. We, on the other hand, love to conceal the holes in our glass houses with Star Spangled Banners.
The 1951 Refugee Convention guarantees asylum to any individual facing persecution. But what should concern us about both Trump’s now failed travel ban, and this latest British decision, is not merely dry argumentation over law.
Most troubling is the direct effect on vulnerable children.
Not much has changed since international legal regulations to protect refugees were put in place 65 years ago. Children—particularly unaccompanied children fleeing conflict—are just as likely to be abducted, abused and harmed as in the past. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently released a video campaign switching between the stories of 12-year-old Ahmed from Syria, and 92-year-old Harry from Germany. Despite being separated by over 70 years, the two monologues contain great similarities. UNICEF’s film compares today’s Syria conflict with historical footage from World War II. But what differs between now and World War II is the indoctrination and exploitation of children by extremist and terrorist organisations.
My organization Quilliam just released a report called “Refuge: Pathways of Youth Fleeing Extremism” backed by both UNICEF and UNESCO. Coupled with our previous report on ISIS’s use of child soldiers, what we discovered is harrowing.
Jihadist terrorists are systematically radicalizing children. There is no doubt about that. And there are those who will argue we can completely avoid the security threat posed by jihadist-indoctrinated children precisely by issuing blanket travel bans against refugees. Such a blinkered view is nothing but an attempt to hope and pray that the outside world simply goes away. It won’t.
Just as President Barack Obama’s inaction in Syria contributed to a power vacuum into which stepped Vladimir Putin, Iran, Hezbollah, and ISIS, our current inaction over child refugees will achieve nothing except to facilitate the black market in human trafficking for terrorists.
According to the European Police Agency (Europol), 10,000—yes that’s 10,000—child refugees have already gone missing. In 2015, 340 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing in the U.K. alone.
These children are actively being targeted by jihadists.
According to our latest report, the so-called Islamic State is offering up to $2,000 a head to families in camps in a bid to recruit their children. They are also offering to pay the trafficking fees. The sense of “debt” this creates will be used to instill loyalty in the children, just as sex traffickers do with the women, girls, and boys they exploit.
About this there is no doubt. Our report found 263 instances of propaganda referring to refugee youth by five jihadist organisations—al Qaeda, Taliban, Islamic State, Boko Haram, and al-Shabab—over the last eight months. These references reflect an extremist obsession with young people, both as soldiers and as young mothers for the next generation.
We cannot simply turn away from this brewing problem. Between the foolhardiness of Angela Merkel’s now infamous “Open Door” policy and the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut (while missing the nut) approach of travel bans, we must devise sensible, mature, and efficient policies to address this growing concern before it is too late.
For if we continue to simply “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”—jihadists will be glad to step in to commit plenty of evils on our behalf. And the lack of a proper safeguarding system in place will leave the door wide open for jihadist child soldiers to become Europe’s next major threat.