Rory Geoghegan is the Founding Director of The Centre for Public Safety, a non-profit organisation advocating for world-class policing and public safety.
What does the Czech town of Cheb have in common with Rotherham? The answer is grim: in both cases, the young and the vulnerable have paid the price for a political paradigm prioritising political correctness over public safety.
The small and, in parts, beautiful town of Cheb sits just a short ten-minute drive from the border with Germany. As you drive in from Germany you pass several large Asian-Vietnamese markets. Nearby is what claims to be an Asian massage parlour, Asian casino and Asian bowling facility. The town itself has numerous Asian premises – some open, some closed, some dormant.
You might be forgiven for thinking Czechs only eat Vietnamese cuisine and that the casino and bowling facilities are the product of shrewd Vietnamese takeaway operators reinvesting their funds. The reality is perhaps closer to that of Walter White’s car wash.
For Cheb – at the very heart of a borderless Europe – is less a Vietnamese culinary capital than it is a prominent player in the production and export of crystal meth. It is an industry dominated by organised crime groups – especially of Vietnamese origin.
The lone women, some struggling to even stand, on the streets of Cheb and the men that roam – looking into parked cars – speak to the fact that not all of the meth leaves the country. These men and women could be described as “agitated zombies”, visibly suffering the worst effects of meth.
With parents addicted to meth, it’s unsurprising that the impact on the town’s children is hard to miss. A UNICEF survey – a decade ago – found three-quarters of primary school children in Cheb knew that child prostitution existed, almost one in three claimed to have seen a child prostitute and 14 per cent said they had already been approached by an adult with an offer of sex for money.
Today, young teenage girls, no older than 14 or 15 years, are still out on the streets. They can be seen pushing prams, acting as “mum” to even younger children also out on the street.
Cheb’s label as a hotspot for child prostitution and child sex tourism is hard to shake for a reason. Media interest in the early 2000s from the BBC, Irish Times, and Der Spiegel brought attention to the issue – but seemingly failed to galvanise the necessary actions to comprehensively tackle it.
Charity workers, like the heroic Cathrin Schauer, have described “a fully developed child prostitution market aimed at German customers” in the city of Cheb – a claim backed up by undercover journalists filming pimps offering child prostitutes as young as 11 years old.
More recently, in 2012, the Association for the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation (ECPAT) reported that “the demand for children as young as five to eight years old, but also between the ages of 10-14, continues to be high…[NGOs] state that they have the impression that tourists come to the area particularly for child sex tourism.”
Schauer’s KARO charity – fighting against forced prostitution and child sex abuse – does vital work and attributes the continuing availability of children to a toxic mix of poverty and ‘persisting criminal structures in the region’.
Cheb may be more distant than Rotherham, but it’s still but a car journey or cheap flight away. It is not some far-flung outpost that politicians in Brussels or elsewhere should be allowed to pretend away or gloss over. It sits at the very heart of Europe and the border – like that between every Schengen Area country – is virtually non-existent.
The Czech National Drug Police, under Jakub Frydrych, talk of a “burning issue”. Along with the German Border Police (Grenzpolizei) they continue to fight the organised crime groups, but with virtually no border controls and – for over a decade – little political will or interest in resurrecting them or facing up to the real issues, they face an uphill battle.
But whether it is child prostitution in Cheb or the sexual abuse of white girls in Rotherham, what enables both is a political paradigm that prioritises political correctness over public safety.
Criticising borderless travel between EU states is – to those buying into the paradigm – as unspeakable a crime as describing some child sex grooming suspects in the UK as Pakistani, Muslim or both; or daring to describe most of the victims of knife crime in London as young and black.
The march of a million migrants – largely unchallenged – into and across Europe – followed by the surge in sex crimes in Germany only serves to further evidence the political prioritisation of politically-correct borderless virtue-signalling over that most fundamental duty of any government: guaranteeing public safety.
The result of the EU referendum should be seen as both a vote to leave the borderless EU and a vote in favour of a political recalibration, restoring principles of natural justice – of fair play – that real people understand and subscribe to. It involves the reassertion of the nation state – defined by its own real borders – as the unit of government with which all can identify.
Cheb stands as just one example of how damaging the absence of real borders can be to public safety – facilitating the sexual exploitation of the vulnerable and the young, not to mention the export of crystal meth to Western Europe.
It’s not just paedophiles and drug dealers that benefit from borderless travel. ISIS and those inspired by them have capitalised upon this uninhibited freedom – roaming across Europe and, as we know, between Paris and Brussels.
Borders are not a silver bullet, but, like the rule of law and the right to a fair trial, they are a fundamental necessity for any sovereign state that takes its obligations to public safety seriously.
Continuing to “talk tough” while failing to deliver may be considered an acceptable political risk by some in Westminster, but if the Prime Minister is serious about tackling sexual violence against women, people trafficking and modern slavery then it shall require (at long last and contrary to her own recent performance as Home Secretary) recognising that borders matter and that borders need to be effectively policed.
Leaving the EU provides Britain with a real opportunity to revisit, overhaul and develop world-class border controls. It is an opportunity that the Government must take seriously – and it is an opportunity that many across Europe will be quietly envious of.