Councillor Varinder Singh Bola reflects on visit to 31st Session of the Congress of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France

24 Oct

London, UK – Last week Councillor Varinder Singh Bola from Ilford, Redbridge, joined the UK’s delegation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

The Council of Europe is a pan-European organisation of 47 member states, including all 28-member states of the European Union (EU). Set up shortly after the end of the Second World War, the Council of Europe’s core mission is to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the continent.

The delegation spent four days discussing a range of political matters relevant to local and regional authorities including: local democracy in Croatia and Cyprus, local elections in Armenia, the prevention of political corruption, women’s political participation, gender budgeting, reform of the European anti-radicalisation strategy, and the situation of Roma and Travellers in Europe.

The delegation members met a number of diplomats from other European nations and were invited for a private dinner at the residence of Ambassador Christopher Yvon, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe. Councillor Varinder Singh Bola was joined by distinguished figures including Andrew Dismore AM (former Member of Parliament for Hendon and current London Assemby Member) and Andrew Boff AM (former Conservative Group Leader on the London Assembly).

Reflecting on his visit, Councillor Varinder Singh Bola said: “I don’t think we appreciate how fortunate we are to live in an inclusive western democracy. It is apparent that the former Soviet and Eastern bloc countries are still struggling to form a pluralistic democracy, uphold human rights and enforce the rule of law.

During my trip I heard first hand testimonies of the plight of the Roma and Travellers. Despite numerous efforts, their circumstances not only have not improved but appear to have worsened during the refugee crisis. Most notably they have endured unfair treatment such as the refusal by government officials to register births and deaths of family members. These communities continue to be denied access to education, employment, housing and health services, as they do not have any paperwork or permanent residence. These minority communities are deliberately kept illiterate, poor, unhealthy, and are deprived of their basic civil rights by powerful local politicians. For generations they have travelled without constraint across Eurasia for trade and marriage. Today they are increasingly being denied access to their cultural heritage and the ability to live their life to their will. We must address the suffering and exclusion of Roma and Travellers until there is justice.”

Commenting of the refugee crisis, Councillor Varinder Singh Bola added: “I believe that the one million refugees currently in Europe should not be seen as a threat. Many studies suggest that a good proportion of the newcomers are young, well educated and willing to build a new life with their own hands. However, I am very worried about what will happen to the unaccompanied children once the refugee camps are bulldozed this winter. Last time this happened hundreds of unaccompanied refugee children went missing. The French authority urgently needs to put a system in place to monitor these vulnerable children or provide safeguarding. As a progressive society we must also take steps to challenge the extremism, xenophobia and hostility towards refugees in Europe.”

Councillor Varinder Singh Bola welcomed the successful election of Mrs Gudrun Mosler-Törnström (Austria) as the first female President of the Congress of the Council of Europe.

Commenting on her election Councillor Varinder Singh Bola said: “I am very pleased to see Gudrun elected as President of the Congress of the Council of Europe. She has strong socialist values and is extremely qualified for the role. It has been a long time coming but we’ve finally broken the long chain of male President’s. I think having a woman leading one of Europe’s most important institutions will inspire many thousands of other females to pursue a career in politics.”

This article was first published in the Samaj Weekly newspaper: