TV review: War Child poses difficult questions

Billy Foley
Billy Foley

War Child, Channel 4, Sunday at 10.30pm

What would you do?

It's a constant internal question as you watch this story of children fleeing war in the Middle East for the safety of Europe.

Would you stay and risk the ravages of war and rule by the medieval Islamic State? Or would you gather up your children, some belongings and head out on the dangerous refugee trail to Germany?

You might drown, you might get robbed, assaulted or kidnapped. You will have to stay in transit camps, watch your children go hungry at times, deal with people smugglers, get arrested and face riot police across razor wire. But at least you will avoid beheading.

It's impossible to say what choice you would make without having lived through the siege of Aleppo or experienced almost non-stop war in Afghanistan since the Soviet Union invaded in 1979.

War Child followed three children as they arrived in Greece in early 2016, headed for Angela Merkel's welcome.

Emran was an eleven-year-old, articulate Afghani boy who was travelling with his aunt and uncle.

Hussein (also 11) was travelling with his married older sister. His father was dead and he'd become separated from his mother.

Rawan is a thoughtful 12-year-old Syrian who left Aleppo with her parents and younger siblings. Her father owned a car dealership in Syria's second city and enjoyed a “European-like lifestyle.”

We followed the children and Rawan's family as they dragged themselves across Europe.

Starting in southern Greece, the refugee trail at the time went through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

Some of the countries would bus refugees to the border of a neighbouring country keen to transfer the problem, but crossing borders was difficult and people smugglers had to be paid.

At one stage Rawan's family were kidnapped on the Serbian border and held against their will for a week until relatives in Turkey sent them money to buy their way out.

It was Germany which finally provided a life. All the refugees we followed were housed and educated by the German people.

But it would be wrong to take the simple conclusion from this powerful and emotional film - that Europe should open its borders to people in need.

Societies prosper when the contract between the state and its citizens is honoured.

That contract in liberal democracies says that your taxes pay for infrastructure, services and a safety net should you lose your job or get sick.

The citizen expects the government to use the taxes it raises efficiently and honestly to achieve these goals.

In a world of open borders these is no need to pay taxes over decades to see improvements in infrastructure and social services, when you can just move to the places which has them already.

In response the taxpayers in that country will question the contract, taxes will be avoided and infrastructure and services will deteriorate.

The incentive to improve any state will decline with the knowledge that it will attract the world's migrants.

We may have cheered for Rawan and her family as they crossed the German border, but it's an unsustainable solution to the problem.


Match of the Day - FA Cup, BBC 1, Monday at 7.30pm

It's been a good week for free-to-air live sport.

On Monday the BBC had a quality football match for the first time in a long time, as Chelsea took on Manchester United in a full intensity encounter.

And on the following day, the BBC announced that it was extending its contract to broadcast the Masters golf amid speculation that it was to end the last live golf contract it had.

While the decision is welcome, the BBC is now in the anomalous position of broadcasting America's leading golf tournament, but not Britain's.

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