Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Osborne’s got his story – and he’s sticking to it (Independent)

Balls will recognise Osborne’s strengths, writes John Rentoul. He shares two of the most important of them.

2. Things could get gloomier for Britain (Financial Times)

Osborne should veer towards caution – the recovery is liable to be snuffed out by events abroad, writes Janan Ganesh.

3. Who’s keeping tabs on the undercover cops? (Daily Telegraph)

The family of Stephen Lawrence are not the only ones concerned about their activities, says Philip Johnston. 

4. Sri Lanka summit taints Commonwealth (Financial Times)

Leaders should feel sick about accepting hospitality from a government with so grim a rights record, says Gideon Rachman.

5. Osborne's comprehensive spending review puts society in intensive care (Guardian)

As Osborne plans ever deeper cuts, Labour has to resist, says Polly Toynbee. The deficit can be shrunk by means that don't hammer the poor

6. The NHS must treat patients, not statistics (Times)

The last thing the health service needs is another big shake-up, writes Rachel Sylvester. Instead it must rediscover its heart.

7. The countryside’s children are being betrayed (Independent)

While the government's drive to improve education has transformed schools in London's inner-city, young people in rural areas are largely missed out, writes Terence Blacker.

8. Don't be fooled by Richard Branson's defence of Virgin trains (Guardian)

Richard Branson didn't like my column about his rail company – but he can't deny that taxpayers are piling up debts to subsidise his profits, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

9. We’ve got to be less secretive about secrets (Times)

The real lesson of the Snowden affair is that the public need to be told what sort of surveillance is going on, says Hugo Rifkind.

10. Marriage vows (Daily Telegraph)

If Cameron is convinced that promoting marriage in the tax system is worthwhile, he should have the courage of his convictions, says a Telegraph editorial. 

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Why Theresa May is a smuggler's best friend when it comes to child refugees

Children prefer to disappear than trust the authorities.

On Monday, Theresa May abolished the post of minister for Syrian Refugees. On Tuesday, a House of Lords select committee report found there were 10,000 migrant and refugee children missing in the EU, of which Britain is still technically a part. And smugglers across the continent raised a glass.

Children do not stay still. In 2013, Missing Children Europe reported that half of unaccompanied children placed in reception centres vanished within the next 48 hours. One explanation is that they fall prey to the usual villains – pimps and gangs. 

But there is another explanation. Refugee and migrant children have so little trust in the authorities that they would rather disappear and put their faith in the underworld. 

One reason for this is that under EU law, asylum seekers are returned to their first point of entry, which is likely to be an overcrowded Greek port rather than a city with education facilities and job prospects. 

Children will go to extreme measures to disappear. The report noted:

“We were particularly troubled to hear of children in Italy and Greece burning or otherwise damaging their fingertips in order to avoid registration, in many cases because they were afraid of being detained or forcibly returned to transit countries having reached their final destination.”

Children are also desperate to find their families. The EU’s Family Reunification Directive should in theory reunite families who have successfully sought asylum, but the UK has opted out of it (and now the EU altogether). Other EU member states have moved to restrict it. The UK has opted into the Dublin Regulation, which allows for family reunification. 

This is partly due to a suspicion that family reunification acts as an incentive for families to send children first, alone. But the report found no evidence of that. Rather, it is usually a case of parents trying to protect their children by sending them out of a dangerous situation. 

The process can be achingly uncertain and slow. Smugglers understand how impatient children are. Two MEPs told the select committee about the port in Malmö, Sweden:

"Traffickers await the arrival of minors, telling them that: 'Well, we can get you to your family much quicker than if you go through the system here' and that 'Getting a guardian will take ages, and then they do the age assessment, which is intrusive. Don’t do that. Just go there, call this guy, take this mobile and they’ll take care of you.'”

In his brief time as Syrian Refugees minister, Richard Harrington brought the topic of unaccompanied minors to MPs again and again. He promised to improve the speed at which applications under the Dublin Regulation were processed. On 13 June he told MPs: “We are doing our absolute best to speed it up as much as we can.”

His role has now been absorbed into the Home Office. No. 10 described it as a temporary position, one no longer needed now the resettlement programme was underway. When the UK finally triggers Article 50 and begins Brexit, it can also leave its EU obligations behind as well. May, the former Home secretary, voted against allowing in 3,000 child refugees.

This does not bode well for asylum policy in Brexit Britain. Meanwhile, with no fast legal route to family unification, smugglers can look forward to the kind of bumper profits they enjoyed in 2015

The consequences can be fatal. Masud, a 15-year-old unaccompanied Afghan, travelled to Calais in the hope of reaching his sister in the UK under the family reunification rules. 

As the report put it: “Masud died in the back of a lorry while trying to reach the UK just before the New Year, having lost hope that his claim to join his sister would ever be heard.”