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Countries Reopen to (Ukrainian) Refugees

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

The tides of compassion have been turning for some time now, making it harder for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to receive the help they desperately need. Roughly seven years after what many have labeled Europe’s “migrant crisis,” European governments seem none the wiser about how to ethically and efficiently provide aid to people forced to flee their countries in search of safety and decent opportunities. The swift, generous outpouring of support for Ukrainians seeking asylum has therefore left many baffled. It is a tragic double standard. On the one hand, no decent person can say that it is bad to help people in need, regardless of their cultural background or where they are from; but on the other hand, it would be hypocritical at best and cruel at worst to deny the fact that the support being offered to Ukrainians is a slap in the face to people in similar situations from other countries, notably those coming from the Middle East and Africa. Even students from these regions, who were based in Ukraine, had trouble leaving when violence broke out and preference was given to Ukrainian citizens. This begs the question, what makes Ukrainians more deserving of aid and compassion than people from these other countries?

The hypocrisy of European governments is blatant. Many of those who have criticized NGOs and volunteers for helping migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are now championing aid for Ukrainians. Leaders of countries like Poland and Belarus have shown a markedly different attitude after allowing over 15 migrants and refugees to die between their borders, when they refused to allow aid groups and journalists in to help.

Photo © Soul Food / Kryssandra Heslop

In France, there have been reports of Ukrainians being offered free transportation and passage to the UK, while migrants from other countries, including unaccompanied minors, are still dying on the tops of trains as they attempt to reach safety. Unaccompanied minors are also being kicked out of their housing to make room for Ukrainians who are expected to arrive. In a country that is already being investigated for its mistreatment of unaccompanied minors, whose rights are repeatedly violated, the message is clear: your rights only matter in France if you fit into a specific category.

“If free transport were applied to all refugees, wherever they come from, this young person would still be alive. Discrimination kills.” Utopia 56

Across the pond, the UK announced a plan to send some of the migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in England via the Channel, to Rwanda, a country with a questionable human rights record that already hosts five times more refugees per capita than the UK. Critics have pointed out the fact that not only is this immigration “processing” plan unethical, exploitative, too expensive, and impractical, but it is also duplicitous considering the UK’s official response in regards to Ukrainians seeking asylum on their territory.

While the physical distance between Ukraine and the United States allows for a level of practical distance in terms of hands-on aid, the narratives being told about Ukrainians is quite different from those being told about Latin American migrants and asylum seekers. Additionally, the fact that the U.S. refuses to condemn the Israeli government, or its own, for invading sovereign nations and killing civilians in the name of war, brings into question its authority on the matter. How can people advocate for Ukrainians right to defend their families, homes and country while simultaneously denying Palestinians that same right? People on all sides continue to criticize American exceptionalism and hypocrisy, but this criticism is not enough to ensure that all migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are acknowledged as people with rights, deserving of the same compassion afforded Ukrainians.

While some have pointed to Putin’s illegitimate and atrocious actions against Ukraine and its citizens as the reason for this outpouring of support, there is no denying that the Russian government is not the only one committing such atrocities. Ukrainians are not the only people suffering grave injustices. Eritrea, South Soudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan are countries that rank amongst the lowest freedom ratings in the world. Belarus is not that far ahead of them. Honduras has one of the highest femicide rates globally. Yemenis are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises today, with 73% of the population depending on humanitarian aid. People from these countries deserve equal aid, compassion, and consideration as those from Ukraine.

In 2020, there was an international reckoning about the reality of racism. People posted black squares and started promoting Black-owned businesses. Some went a step further and made meaningful efforts to educate themselves and others. During this time, it was pointed out by migrant and refugee advocates that while these were all important steps that needed to be taken, not enough was being done to support Black migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. They were still being left to die in the Mediterranean while humanitarians and volunteers who tried to help them were increasingly being prosecuted. Then as now, the hypocrisy was poignant. The hashtag #BlackMigrantLivesMatter started being used to shed light on the issue, which likely due to the subjects’ vulnerable position in society, still doesn’t get enough coverage.

The negative impact of Putin’s invasion will only continue to be felt. It’s been estimated that more than 40 million people in West Africa lack food security, and the war in Ukraine is expected to aggravate this by driving up food and fuel prices, further destabilizing already-economically unstable nations that suffer from violence, political instability and the negative impact of climate change. When people flee these African nations in search of safety and livelihood, consideration for these connections to the war in Ukraine will likely be forgotten, much to the detriment of those who need it most.

All refugees, asylum seekers and migrants should be welcome. Advocating for the rights of Ukrainians and people from other countries is not mutually exclusive. One can be outraged by the war crimes being committed in Ukraine, while being equally outraged by those being committed in Yemen and Palestine. The right to seek asylum is a fundamental right that must be granted to all who need it. We must speak out against injustice everywhere, not just when it happens to people who look like us or within countries that we believe are similar to our own. Anything less is unjust and insincere, and only serves to embolden tyrants to continue committing atrocities.

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