Plight of Migrant Children Stirs Europe's Conscience

The plight of dying and suffering children intensified debate across Europe about how to respond to migrant crisis.

Published: 03rd September 2015 08:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd September 2015 09:35 AM   |  A+A-


Paramilitary police officers investigate the scene before carrying the lifeless body of an unidentified migrant child, lifting it from the sea shore, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum, Turkey, early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. | AP

The plight of dying and suffering children last night (Wednesday) intensified debate across Europe about how to respond to the ever-worsening migrant crisis.

In Turkey, the bodies of two boys aged three and five were washed ashore after an overcrowded dinghy of Syrian refugees capsized on its way to Greece, prompting a huge outpouring of sympathy across the Continent. Meanwhile, in Macedonia a

policeman pictured carrying a screaming baby at the barbed wire border with Greece encapsulated the plight of the countless children making desperate journeys through the Balkans.

The images became a rallying point for those who argue Europe should be opening its arms to refugees.

But last night borders were being re-established, curtailing the free movement of people within the Schengen zone.

Border checks were carried out between Italy and Austria at the request of Germany amid signs that officials now believe the principle of "freedom of movement" within the EU is not sustainable. David Cameron responded to calls for the UK to accept its "fair share" of refugees by saying the answer to the crisis was not for Britain to take in "more and more" people.

After criticism from Germany, which is giving homes to 800,000 refugees, the Prime Minister said: "We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world. I don't think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees."

His stance was controversial even within his own party. David Burrowes, a Conservative MP and vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, said the Government should give homes to "thousands" more people.

He told The Daily Telegraph: "At the very least what we should be doing is accepting more than 1 per cent of Syrian refugees because we accept more than 1 per cent responsibility. We should be looking in the region of thousands rather than hundreds."

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, said: "Increasingly I'm coming to the view that we're not doing enough. I know there is a domestic debate about immigration but I think the other debate is whether the European Union is doing enough."

The implementation of checks at the Austria-Italy border came after tough new controls were imposed along Austria's eastern border with Hungary.

Diplomats last night said that the Schengen system of open borders in the EU was "under threat".

Stephan Mayer, a German MP and home affairs spokesman for Angel Merkel's group of MPs, said: "I am extremely pleased that these border controls between Italy and Austria are under way. That was the express wish of the Bavarian government, given the dramatic increase in asylum seekers and refugees in southern Bavaria."

Under the Schengen agreement, a country can introduce border controls in "exceptional circumstances", where a "serious threat to public policy or

internal security" is identified, but only for 30 days.

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said: "Schengen has now hit the buffers of the real world and is falling apart. In a crisis, national interests always prevail over European ideology."

The European Commission described the controls as "police checks" and denied that it was a contravention of the Schengen agreement.

In Calais, passengers on a Eurostar train from Paris to London took 16 hours to complete their journey after a security breach by migrants left them stranded. Up to 150 migrants tried to climb on to the carriages after stopping the train by lying on the tracks, forcing police to turn off the power to the overhead cables. Passengers spent five hours in hot, airless and dark carriages before being taken to a nearby station. Some fainted and a pregnant woman had to be taken to hospital.

Nevertheless, many passengers expressed sympathy for the migrants' plight, saying their own inconvenience was nothing compared with those who risked their lives in a desperate attempt to reach the UK for a better life.

The two Kurdish boys whose bodies were washed ashore in Bodrum, Turkey, were named as Aylan Kurdi, three, and his brother Galip, five. Their parents were among four survivors out of 23 passengers on two boats who set off from Turkey for the island of Kos. The couple went to a mortuary to say their goodbyes, but collapsed with grief and exhaustion and were taken to hospital.

Downing Street said that a scheme for vulnerable Syrian refugees had resettled 216 in the UK since the beginning of the conflict there in 2011. A spokesman said that around 5,000 Syrians had been granted asylum in "the last few years". Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: "When mothers are desperately trying to stop their babies from drowning when their boat has capsized, when people are being left to suffocate in the backs of lorries by evil gangs of traffickers and when children's bodies are being washed to shore, Britain needs to act."

Frontex, the European border control agency, estimated that 23,000 people had arrived in Greece alone last week, a 50 per cent increase on the previous week, taking the total so far this year to 160,000.


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