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Equality & Inequality: How Refugees from Ukraine Expose Western Racism & Human Rights Abuse

Equality, a cause of refugee suicide and rape

Equality can be such a terrible thing! We observe its dangers and potential long-term harm on societies in our everyday lives to the point of a hopeless sort of numbness to it (as a response). What we do not easily and often observe is the dreadful danger of equality in refugee camps and detention centres, and indeed, other places such as those. The recent conflict in Ukraine has the world (especially the Western World) in an uproar over the grave disregard for human life. President Putin and his supporters are verbally charged with human rights abuse, and inhumane heartlessness for families divided and separated by death as a result of this unfortunate war. The world grieves as refugees are made of Ukrainian citizens. Sanctions have been deliberated and enforced upon the oppressor (President Putin) by the highest offices of the European Union, Nato, and several other countries including Australia. The United Nations has equally voted to reprimand Russia for invading Ukraine; the vote was supported by 141 of the 193 countries that constitute the UN General Assembly.

Refugee camps in Africa offer very little hope for their residents. We know the primary design and purpose of refugee camps was to act as temporary short-term homes for asylum seekers and other Persons of Concern (POCs). Some refugees have lived in a camp/settlement for over 25 years, knowing nothing else and with no actual hope of help in sight. The UNHCR reports that there has been a surge in suicides and suicide attempts in Ugandan refugee settlements, for instance. In 2019, Ugandan refugee settlements had 97 suicide attempts with 19 deaths. Restricted camps such as the Kakuma Camp in Kenya, home to nearly 200,000 refugees records cases of robberies, rape, and suicide, fuelled mostly due to severe conditions of poverty, hunger, and the inability to legally work. One refugee in the Kakuma Camp described the conditions as “a paradise in hell!“ Again in Kakuma, a kilo of sorghum (a kind of millet) is given to refugees for the month (as part of the food relief programme there); the refugees receive similar amounts regardless of family size or conditions of health, thus illustrating the inequality in the equality of food distribution.

Displays of racial inequalities 

At the height of the unrest in Ukraine, over 2 million refugees have fled so far into neighbouring countries to the west, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. A smaller number of refugees have also left for Russia and Belarus. As we appreciate and applaud this show of togetherness and shared love and compassion for humanity and the preservation of life, especially by Poland, we observe with equal disgust for the country’s blatant and remorseless racism towards Africans, Indians, and people from the Middle East also seeking refuge together with (white) Ukrainian citizens. Scores of black and brown refugees in Ukraine are revealing narratives on how they are segregated, shunned, and refused entry on buses and other transport carrying people to safety.

Most, unfortunately, racism, especially in times of dire need that hinge on life and death is not foreign to high-level Polish officials (and by extension, the Polish government). At the peak of the Syrian civil war, Jaroslaw Kaczynski declared that Poland would not accept any refugees from Syria because there was no mechanism that would ensure security. Hungary also is another country that has displayed severe double standards and unapologetic racism towards refugees in the recent past. Since the 2015 refugee crisis, Hungary has rejected refugees from non-EU countries, calling them “Muslim invaders“ and migrants as a “poison.“ 

The issues of racism, favouritism and selectionist agendas are not problems with individual EU member states alone. We know that in 2015, the EU activated severe refugee and asylum seeker detention measures which allowed the detention of Persons of Concern and asylum seekers for overly lengthy periods. The EU embraces racial inequality and stands in conflict with its resolutions concerning refugees. For the sake of one of Europe’s own (white refugees), the European Union has stated that it will welcome (the estimated 4 million Ukrainian refugees set to leave) with “open arms.“ It is tragically paradoxical that the United Nations (of which all 27 EU countries are a member) declares equal human rights for all people of all nations and denies equality of opportunity to refugees outside of the white race. The Bulgarian Prime Minister, in his comments on the influx and protection of Ukrainian refugees, stated that “these are not the refugees we are used to…these people are Europeans. These people are intelligent; are educated people…“ Though his comment is deeply saddening, what is truly unfortunate about it is that it echoes the unspoken resolve of Europe and the west towards non-white refugees.

“These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told journalists, of the Ukrainians.

Tweeted from the Associated Press @AP

A western abuse of human rights

The rising conflict in the Ukraine is a rather stark awakening for the western world that situations can indeed escalate in only a matter of weeks at levels so severe that 4 million refugees are expected to come from it. I would like to note that a conflict of greater loss had indeed happened not very long ago; an incident I am certain most readers have not heard of. It is termed “The African World War“ and actively involved 9 African countries with over 25 armed groups fighting, and claimed over 5.4 million lives and displaced an additional 2 million people; this war is recognised as the deadliest conflict since World War 2. It lasted from 1998-2003, and yet, almost nothing was made of it; almost no one knows of it! For how long shall race determine one life’s importance over the other?

The world desperately needs to take non-polarised approaches to aid, the preservation of human rights and life! The degrees of strife we see in African and non-white refugee camps, settlements and detention centres are a blatant admission of a weaponised equality. The injustice we witness against non-white refugees on western borders is a lucid depiction of racism and a lacklustre stance on these matters by the European Union and its member states alike. Racial inequalities against refugees should be condemned and dealt with equal severity as Putin faces. If condemnation and sanctions suffice in communicating the distaste for human rights atrocities that NATO, the EU and UN share, they should in turn suffice and should be applied to those who further promote the abuse of human rights by refusing entry into the safety of their respective countries.

We (the world at large) should pride ourselves in treating refugees in such a manner as we would like to be treated, were we them. A final thought to ponder concerning this is: if the way we behave, apropos Persons of Concern and refugees, was to be universally done, would it be universally beneficial? 

Image: Getty Images

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Written by Rya G. Kuewor

Refugee/Migrant & POC Economic Integration Expert.

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