Russia-Ukraine war reveals discrimination against Arabs, Africans in Europe: Egyptian rights group

Ahram Online , Thursday 17 Mar 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown that xenophobia against non-Europeans is still prevalent in Eastern Europe, where Arabs and Africans are subject to “racial discrimination,” an Egyptian human rights group has said.

Ukrainian evacuees walk at the Ukrainian-Romanian border in Siret, northern Romania, on March 16, 20
Ukrainian evacuees walk at the Ukrainian-Romanian border in Siret, northern Romania, on March 16, 2022. AFP

The Cairo-based Forum for Development and Human Rights Dialogue (FDHRD) issued on Thursday a report documenting instances of discrimination against Arabs and Africans during the exodus from Ukraine on the heels of the Russian invasion, which started on 24 February.

The report stressed that xenophobia and racism are condemned by the international humanitarian law and all human rights conventions.

Inhumane treatment

The Russia-Ukraine war has so far forced around 4 million people of different nationalities, including Arabs and Africans, to seek refuge in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.

However, instances of discrimination have been reported, particularly against people of African and Arab origin who were reportedly barred from crossing the Ukrainian border.

Arabs and Africans – including women and children – have not been provided the necessary protection or help to return to their country, the FDHRD's report added.

"Everyone of Arab or African descent was prevented from getting food and drink until Ukrainian citizens got it first. They were also prevented from boarding trains and were forced to cross the road on foot, and Ukrainian soldiers kept telling them 'Ukrainians first'," the report added.

Ukrainian and Polish border guards follow a discriminatory policy against non-Europeans by impeding the crossing of Africans while allowing Ukrainians to cross and providing them with food and first aid, the report added.

At the same time that European countries welcome Ukrainian refugees and provide them with official and safe transit routes, seven asylum seekers of non-European origin died after their boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece, with their distress calls having gone unanswered.

The report reviewed how the discrimination extended to the official political levels, citing the controversial remarks by officials, including by Kirill Petkov, the Bulgarian prime minister.

Petkov has said, “These people are smart, they are educated people...This is not the refugee wave we are used to, people we were not sure of who they were, people with an ambiguous past, who could even be terrorists.”

Major European countries have shown flexibility, welcomed Ukrainian refugees, and issued decisions to facilitate their reception and residence.

The report said this represented a "stark contrast to the policy of expulsion and retaliation" when dealing with asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa.

Although Arab officials have called on the Ukrainian authorities to stop such racist practices, the situation of Arab and African refugees has not improved.

Ukraine halted the evacuation of Jordanian students from Sumy, the report noted, citing media reports published on 7 March.

Two-faced media

The FDHRD said the war also revealed how European journalists and media adopted racist speech, describing Ukrainian refugees as “civilised,” as opposed to refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

Arab and African refugees have been described as terrorists and uncivilised, the report highlighted, citing as an example remarks made by CBS foreign correspondent Charlie D'Agata.

D'Agata has said on television that, “This is not a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, which has seen increasing conflict for decades. This is a relatively civilised place and relatively European.”

The report added that Al-Jazeera English presenter Peter Dubey made a discriminatory comparison between Ukrainian refugees and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

"What is convincing is just looking at them, the way they dress, these are thriving middle-class people, who obviously, these are not refugees trying to escape from areas of the Middle East that are still in a state of great war, these are not people trying to escape from areas in North Africa, they look like any European family living next door," Dubey said on air.

Racist statements have also been made by politicians, the FDHRD said, adding that the former Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor General David Sakvarilidze said in an interview with BBC that, "It is very moving for me because I see Europeans with blue eyes and blond hair being killed, and children being killed every day by Russian President Putin's missiles and helicopters."

The report called for humane treatment of refugees of different races, religions and nationalities, and condemned double standards in dealing with humanitarian issues, which indicate dangerous discriminatory thinking and ignorance of basic human rights principles.

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