Belgium, (Brussels Morning) Students of African and Arab descent are being blocked from passing the Ukrainian border, prompting racist and discrimination advocates to condemn “Europe’s systemic racism”.
The alarm has been triggered by several media outlets including Al Jazeera and France24, which have reported mistreatment by Ukrainian border guards. The head of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, spoke out against the “ugly reality” that some refugees fleeing across the Ukraine border, including Third Country Nationals, have been exposed to racism and discrimination.
“We also bore witness to the ugly reality, that some Black and Brown people fleeing Ukraine – and other wars and conflicts around the world – have not received the same treatment as Ukrainian refugees,” said Grandi.
“We felt treated like animals,” the 19-year-old Barlaney Mufaro Gurure told Al Jazeera in a phone interview from a Warsaw hotel. Gurure, a freshman at the National Aviation University, fled Kyiv hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine on February 24.
“When we left [Kyiv] we were just trying to survive,” she said. “We never thought that they would have treated us like that […] I thought we were all equal, that we were trying to stand together,” Gurure added.
Brussels Morning reached out to the Cabinets of Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova to learn what the European Commission was doing to address these claims. However, the Spokesperson’s Service cited President von der Leyen’s empty words: “Europe stands by those in need of protection”.
In addressing our query, the Spokesperson’s Service revealed some sort of incongruency adding: “The EU is committed to providing access to everyone fleeing the war in Ukraine – regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or skin colour. Those eligible will be protected under temporary protection rules in the EU.”
During his Good Friday speech, Pope Francis said refugees were treated according to their skin: “Refugees are divided into categories – first class, second class – ranked according to their skin colour and country of origin, whether developed or not,” Pope Francis said on the Italian TV channel Rai.
Despite the Commission’s emergency measures, not everyone is eligible under the Temporary Directive Framework to ease asylum requests into Europe.
“The decision to invoke the Temporary Protection Directive is historical and yet disappointing in that it still applies a racist double standard which prevents non-Ukrainians from having the same legal protection,” said Juliana Wahlgren, Senior Advocacy Officer at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
Wahlgren denounced the difference in treatment that migrants are facing. In particular, migrants from racialised backgrounds are often granted a 15-day visa which pales in comparison to the potential 3 years provided to Ukrainian migrants.
“Skin colour or passport types should not be a criteria which provides one group of people more protection over another. Europe must do better to be a safe haven for all. The Temporary Protection Directive shall not be an instrument that legitimises discrimination,” said Wahlgren.
Recently, ENAR informed that racial profiling, violence, and restrictions — including of visas — are still being used to prevent racialised people from reaching safety from the conflict.
ENAR accuses EU member states of “double standards in treatment and protection given towards migrants” noting that such behaviour is a reflection of “systemic racism across Europe”.
“The message to racialised people in Europe is even clearer: their lives matter less, and no one seems to care,” denounced ENAR in a press statement.
ENAR’s Director Kim Smouter denounced this “alarming reality” and the EU’s lack of appropriate response to such discrimination: “Black people and other racialised groups are facing discrimination while fleeing the war, and instead of feeling safe once they finally escape, they only face further discrimination within the EU,” said Smouter.
“The weapons used in this conflict are deadly to all people, irrespective of race or nationality. Every person crossing the borders is seeking refuge from the same dangers, yet they are treated differently,” added Smouter.