Media, Refugees and Racism: The Double Standard of Western Responses to the Ukraine Crisis


As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the end of its third month, there has been an unprecedented outpouring of support and condemnation of Putin’s actions from nations around the world. Most notably, the United States and Europe have launched remarkable economic sanctions crippling the Russian economy. Demonstrating a united front not seen since World War II, the whole of NATO, including the United States and the United Kingdom, provided material and economic support to Ukraine in an attempt to repel Putin. However, this response, while a great example of how diplomacy can combat unjust aggression, has not been given to other nations facing invasion, unrest or conflict.

This becomes even more apparent when looking at Western responses to the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the country in recent weeks. Since the Russian invasion on February 24, several countries have abolished visas for Ukrainians who can now enter the EU for up to three years without having to apply for asylum first. The UK has also eased visa rules for those who are immediate family members of British citizens, as well as implementing a new “Homes for Ukraine” scheme which allows Ukrainians to stay with a sponsor. British for up to six months. Other states like Ireland and Moldova have completely lifted visa restrictions and allow refugees to enter without papers. Ukrainians fleeing to EU countries were allowed free travel on European plane, bus and train systems and also gained several rights such as right of residence, access to housing, social assistance, medical care, access to education for children and adolescents, access to the labor market, as well as the right to a payment account with basic benefits. Vacation rental company Airbnb has even pledged to host up to 100,000 people for free. These unprecedented steps are proof of the opportunities that can be created to uphold the basic human rights of those fleeing war when the world comes together.

Yet, it must be recognized that this has unfortunately not been the norm for refugees from all countries. At present, despite 11 years of brutal civil war that have shown some of the worst humanitarian scenes in recent history, Syrians are only allowed to enter five countries without a visa and 23 with an eVisa or visa at home. arrival, usually only allowing a 90- day stay. None of these countries are in Europe or North America despite the large number of refugees arriving on European shores. The case is similar for those seeking asylum in other countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia and Eritrea, who instead are forced to live in refugee camps. unsanitary and sordid fortunes where they were often the victims of attacks and inhuman treatment by the police. or local security guards. These camps, the most populated being in Greece, France, Spain and Italy, constitute their own humanitarian crisis where the dangerous conditions and lack of basic regulations lead to a host of problems, including insecure conditions for women and girls, missing persons and devastating campfires. Those who choose to leave these camps or seek refuge elsewhere are forced to live in the forests without food or shelter.

Where Hungary opened its arms to Ukrainians, it also built a huge fence to prevent refugees from Africa and the Middle East from entering the country. Denmark, a state that has recently attempted to enact legislation allowing Ukrainians access to residency, has also attempted to deport Syrians to Russian-held areas of the country where they have faced oppression and the death. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “Anyone fleeing Putin’s bombs is welcome in EuropeYet she has previously hailed Greece as Europe’s “shield” against refugees, pledging 700 million euros in EU funds to the Greek government to enable its continued crackdown on asylum seekers. “This border is not just a Greek border… It’s a European border.” she says. The juxtaposition of these statements is illuminating: Europe is united against helping the refugees who are dying on their doorstep – and united to help theirs.

Understanding the root of the chaotic gap between the response to the Ukrainian crisis and responses to conflicts in the Middle East and Africa becomes clearer when examining media coverage of such events. New reports have been inundated with white reporters expressing shock that the war is taking place in Europe.

Charlie D’Agata of CBS News remarked that Ukraine “is not a place…like Iraq or Afghanistan, which has had conflict for decades. […]. It’s a relatively civilizedrelatively European – I also have to choose these words carefully – city, where you don’t expect or expect that to happen.

Daniel Hannan wrote in The telegraph newspaper: “They look so much like us. That’s what makes it so shocking… War is no longer something visited poor and isolated populations. It can happen to anyone.”

Al Jazeera’s Peter Dobbie said: “What’s fascinating is just watching them, the way they’re dressed. These are prosperous middle classes. Obviously, these are not refugees trying to flee from areas of the Middle East that are still in a state of war. These are not people trying to get away from the regions of North Africa. They look like any European family you would live next door to […].”

Asked about Poland’s response to Ukrainians in relation to the latest European refugee crisis in 2015, NBC correspondent Kelly Cobiella replied: “To put it bluntly, they are not refugees from Syria, they are refugees from neighboring Ukraine. That, quite frankly, is part of it. They are Christians, they are white, they are very similar people.

These grossly biased opinions are so ingrained and systemic that they are even seen at judicial and governmental levels.

Ukraine’s deputy chief prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze, told BBC News: “It’s very moving for me because I see Europeans with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”

These thinly veiled racist reports make it unsurprising that such views of white superiority have seeped into the actions of those on the ground. Africans and Asians attempting to leave Ukraine would have been left failed, stopped boarding trains and crossing borders, and even threatened and beaten by border officials. The BBC has learned from a Nigerian student who was told: “if you are black, you should walk”. Another student said he left the Polish border because of the “inhumane behavior of Ukrainian soldiers and acts of racism”. An Indian student said he saw the separation of people by nationality at the Romanian border. It is clear that in this situation, the lives of white Ukrainians are valued more than those of people of color, even when trying to escape destruction. This reflects the terrible but sobering reality that even in 2022, white supremacy continues to expand into life and death situations.

Overall, the Global North has become so numb to the suffering in Africa and the Middle East that many have lost awareness of the fact that refugees from these regions are ironically the result of Western occupation and invasion. If Palestine had been a white European state, it is unlikely that Israel would have been allowed to continue its illegal occupation there. Moreover, European memory is short when it comes to remembering conflicts on the continent such as the decades-long unrest in Ireland or the Bosnian war of the 1990s. i.e. civilized) translates into glib attitudes on the part of the media regarding tragic events occurring in other parts of the world and trivializes the experiences of those who experience them. Although the hypocrisy of Western responses to the Russian invasion was quickly recognized and incorporated into the discourse on the Ukrainian crisis, we can only hope that this sets a precedent for all refugees across the world and not just in Europe. .

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