Geneva – The official and media European positions towards the Ukraine crisis, which resulted in a refugee crisis, have exposed a deep-rooted racist European policy that excludes and discriminates against non-European ethnicities, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement on Wednesday.
Over the past days, the security authorities in Ukraine and Poland and other European politicians and journalists showed several forms of racism and discrimination based on race, color, and religion against refugees fleeing the war Russia launched on Ukraine on 24 February.
Euro-Med Monitor’s team viewed testimonies and videos showing that the Polish border guard follow discriminatory policy against non-Europeans, by impeding the crossing of Africans while allowing Ukrainians to cross and providing them with food and first aid.
Michela Pugliese, migration and asylum researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said: “While European countries welcome Ukrainian refugees and provide them with official and safe transit routes, seven asylum seekers of non-European ethnicity died yesterday after their boat sank in the Mediterranean off the coasts of Greece.”
“Safe routes should be provided to all migrants and asylum seekers, regardless of their race, religion, or nationality,” she added.
Students and residents of Arab and African nationalities in Ukraine told Euro-Med Monitor that they were forced to sit for long hours at the Polish border without any help, and some of them—especially with black skin—were prevented from crossing without reasons and remained stuck at the borders. At the same time, great facilities were provided to white Ukrainians, who were allowed to cross without visas and travel by train without tickets.
Indians residing in Ukraine also said that they faced great difficulties when fleeing the country, as they were not allowed to board the trains, and their crossing was delayed, while the Ukrainians were allowed to cross first.
Discrimination also extended to include official political levels, as the Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said: “These people are intelligent, they are educated people…. This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists.”
Major European countries showed flexibility, welcomed Ukrainian refugees, and issued decisions to facilitate their reception and residence, in stark contrast to the policy of expulsion and pushback they followed when dealing with asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa, which also witness violent conflicts—more severe than the Russian-Ukrainian conflict sometimes.
European journalists and media outlets used a racist discourse, focusing on the fact that Ukrainian refugees are civilized, unlike refugees from the Middle East and North Africa who have been stigmatized as terrorists and uncivilized.
For instance, Charlie D'Agata, CBS’s foreign correspondent, said on TV: “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades… This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city, where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.”
Although the correspondent apologized after a wave of widespread criticism on social media platforms, his statements reflect the views and impressions of a large segment of journalists who spoke about the crisis with similar expressions.
Similarly, Peter Dobbie, a presenter for Al Jazeera English, made a seemingly discriminatory comparison between Ukrainian refugees and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, saying: “What is compelling is that just looking at them, the way they’re dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to.”
Journalist Philip Korb on BFM, one of France's most watched channels, said on air, “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.”
Meanwhile, on Britain's ITV, a correspondent in Poland said: “This is not a developing third world nation. This is Europe.”
Racist statements also came from people other than journalists. The BBC hosted the former Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze, who said: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed, children being killed every day by [Russian President] Putin’s missiles, helicopters, and rockets.”
While Euro-Med Monitor expresses full solidarity with the civilian victims of the war in Ukraine, especially the fleeing refugees, the abhorrent duplicity in the European security, political, and media dealings with the humanitarian crises resulting from this war is reprehensible.
All these practices are forms of racial discrimination according to Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which defines it as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
European Union and European countries’ humane treatment of refugees should include refugees of different races, religions, and nationalities, away from double standards in dealing with humanitarian issues that indicate a deep value regression, dangerous discriminatory thought, and an ignorance to fundamental human rights principles.
The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination should investigate the reports and testimonies about racial discrimination practices in dealing with those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
All conflicting parties should respect the rules of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions during the war to avoid endangering civilians and distance them from all hostilities.