In early March, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU announced the activation of a never-before-used directive, authorising entry to the EU of an unlimited number of people fleeing disaster. Ukrainian refugees will have the right to reside and work in the EU for one year, extendable to three, a right that refugees fleeing other recent wars, such as those in Syria and Afghanistan, have been denied. It is not known how many people from these countries never reached European territory, having died in the attempt, drowned in the Mediterranean. Alarm Phone’s network of volunteers relies on two basic tools in its work to help prevent migrants and refugees from dying at sea.
Over 4 million refugees – mostly women, children, and students – have fled Ukraine over the past month. In response, Europe has opened its arms to Ukrainian refugees and the EU has announced that all Ukrainians are eligible for temporary refugee protection for up to three years, with politicians and the public showing their support. This is how the international refugee protection regime should work. According to official Ukrainian government statistics, Ukraine had over 76,000 foreign students in 2020. About 20,000 of these were Indians and over 15,000 originated from Africa, mainly from Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt. In contrast, they have had a very different experience fleeing Ukraine. African and Asian students have described horrid stories of being beaten with sticks by Ukrainian security, pushed off buses and trains, and neglected in favour of Ukrainians. And recent disturbing reports suggest that they are also being unfairly detained at EU borders – being denied access to protection, basic human rights, and dignity, as well as being threatened with deportation.
In just a few short weeks, Russia’s war on Ukraine has precipitated a massive exodus of refugees. According to the United Nations, more than 4.3 million people have fled the country since February 24, the majority of them – 2.5 million – traveling west to Poland. Media across the world have closely covered the story, and shown a great deal more sympathy for the Ukrainian refugees than for others fleeing from U.S. wars in the Middle East or North Africa.
As the war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, EU authorities are increasingly revealing their double standards in how they treat refugees. European countries have welcomed white Ukrainian refugees, quickly integrating them into the labor market and schools. Meanwhile, Black and Brown refugees from the Global South continue to experience Europe’s racist border regime. Reports coming out in news globally shows that people from the African continent who have lived in Ukraine for years are not receiving the same treatment as white Ukrainians. Refugees trying to reach Europe from Africa and West Asia are violently rejected, as exemplified by the brutality on the border between Morocco and Spain surrounding Melilla, occurring just a couple of days after European governments opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees.
Chisinau, Moldova - Nestled above the Black Sea, between the war zone in Ukraine and the eastern limits of NATO territory in Romania, sits the tiny, oft-forgotten landlocked nation of Moldova. Among the poorest countries in Europe by just about any relevant metric, it has been overwhelmed by Ukrainian refugees in the three weeks since the outset of what Russia calls its “special military operation” (спецоперация) in Ukraine. More than 359,000 people of the 3.38 million who have fled Ukraine since February 24 have passed in and out of the country, according to the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees. Roman Macovenco of the Moldovan Consular Directorate confirmed at least 300,000 Ukrainians had crossed through Moldova.
The ongoing Russian invasion has torn asunder whatever passed for geopolitical stability in Eastern Europe in the years since NATO expansion brought Poland and the three former Soviet Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia into its membership. While peeved, Russia had accepted the resulting equilibrium with stoic grace, bristling at every NATO effort at muscle flexing, but not overreacting. Even in the face of NATO and EU intervention in the affairs of Russia’s neighbor and ostensible ally, Belarus, in the aftermath of a contested August 2020 presidential election and sustained border crisis over immigration policy, Russia kept its cool, reining in Viktor Lukashenko, the impetuous Belarussian president, while trying to calm the situation with the four NATO members in question.
In the history of accepting refugees, countries have shown more than an erratic streak. Universal human characteristics have often been overlooked in favor of the particular: race, cultural habits, religion. Even immigration nations, such as the United States and Australia, have had their xenophobic twists and turns on the issue of who to accept, be they victims of pogroms, war crimes, genocide, or famine. The Russian attack on Ukraine has already produced refugees in the hundreds of thousands. By March 2, with the war one week old, 874,000 people were estimated to have left Ukraine. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that up to four million may leave, while the European Union adds a further three million to the figure.
The United Nations has admitted that some non-Europeans refugees have faced discrimination while trying to flee to safety at Ukraine borders after their experiences were dismissed as lies and “Russian disinformation” by online commentators. Filippo Grandi, the organization's High Commissioner for Refugees, acknowledged their plight during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “You have seen reports in the media that there are different treatments – with Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians. Now our observations, and we possibly cannot observe every single post yet – but our observations is that these are not state policies – but there are instances which it has happened,” he said. “There has been a different treatment (...).
High caliber artillery fire, though prohibited in the contact zone, is intensifying against the Donbass. Six 120mm shells hit the village of Zhelobok, seven of 122mm hit the village of Rayevka, then ten against Vesyola Gorka. Shelling was also carried out from the Kyiv-controlled city of Novotoshkivske, against Lugoanskoe, Krimsoe and Sokolniki, with more than 20 bombs dropped. On February 17, 17 bombing operations had been committed against the Donbass. In Donetsk, on the evening of February 18, 2022, the car of the head of a DPR militia department Denis Sinenkov was targeted by a bomb attack. In front of the DPR government building. A unit of saboteurs from Kiev attempted to blow up an ammonia tank at the Stirol power station in the town of Gorlovka, an operation claimed to have been foiled by the Donetsk authorities.
Editor note: Today I have this piece by war reporter Alexander Kots. He set out to find human interest stories among the over 10,000 refugees who have crossed over from the Donbass region into Russia, just in the past couple of days. Roughly half of these refugees are technically Russian citizens already, holding Russian passports. The other half being Ukrainian citizens who are resident in the Separatist-controlled Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) and Luhansk Peoples Republic (LPR). The order (issued by the leaders of those republics) to evacuate women, children, and elderly was given this past Thursday, after the Ukrainian army opened massive artillery barrages on the line of demarcation, threatening massive damage and loss of life to the residential communities.
The mainstream media have been replete with stories of a new Tory “red meat” initiative of right-wing policies. “Government sources” briefed the media that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Home Secretary Priti Patel were in talks with their counterparts in Ghana and Rwanda about setting up internment camps to receive asylum seekers deported from the U.K. Apart from the fact it would be entirely illegal to deport Syrians or Afghans to Africa, I knew it to be simply impossible the story was true. I have had the pleasure of being friends with President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana, and with many of his family, for 20 years. Nana would never agree to such a thing; his background is as a human rights lawyer and activist.
On 5 October, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a historic, non-legally binding resolution that ‘recognises the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights’. Such a right should force governments who sit at the table at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow later this month to think about the grievous harm caused by the polluted system that shapes our lives. In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed out that 92% of the world’s population breathes toxic air quality; in the developing world, 98% of children under five are inflicted with such bad air. Polluted air, mostly from carbon emissions, results in 13 deaths per minute globally.
Following the Taliban’s seizure of power, people across the political spectrum have expressed concern about the fate of Afghans who helped the United States and are therefore at risk of retribution. (This concern is not universal: We are also seeing a rise in far-right, anti-Afghan refugee sentiment.) Pundits and politicians who gave little attention to civilian deaths in Afghanistan during 20 years of U.S. occupation are joining in this outpouring — a dynamic that is building pressure for the Biden administration to extend the U.S. military presence. The Biden administration has stopped evacuating Afghans by air, citing the bombings on the airport, but continues to airlift Americans from the country as the August 31 deadline approaches. Biden claims evacuations of Afghan allies will resume post-withdrawal.
Farida is 51 years old. She was born in Belgium. Her entire family has the Belgian nationality. Farida has a steady job. She cleans offices and public buildings, for €6-8 per hour. Her last application for a regularization of her administrative status got rejected and she has received a state-issued order to leave the territory. Kiran fled a civil war in Nepal 16 years ago and applied for asylum in Belgium. While his asylum request was still pending, he got a job that paid €10 an hour. When his asylum claim got rejected, his wage fell to €2.5 an hour. His daughter, born in Belgium, is now five years old and speaks fluent Flemish, which she learned at school. The family submitted five applications to be regularized, they were all rejected.
Amid a raging global pandemic, a record 55 million people were displaced from their homes but still living in their countries by the end of 2020, according to the latest report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. While the figures have been increasing steadily for over a decade, as per the Geneva-based center’s annual reports, ferocious storms, floods and conflicts displaced more people within their own country in 2020 – in spite of the global pandemic – than in any other year covered by the IDMC’s reporting. Shockingly, the report found that internally displaced people outnumbered refugees, those who flee to another country, by a ratio of two to one. The research center, which is part of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), also cautioned that their figures were likely a “significant underestimate” as global pandemic travel restrictions frustrated efforts to more accurately collect data.