The global outpouring of solidarity shown toward Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion should “set the example for all refugee crises,” the head of the United Nations refugee agency said Thursday.
More than 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine and some 3.7 million have been forced to flee the country since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine a month ago, according to U.N. figures — in the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. European countries and other wealthy nations have opened their doors.
The European Union adopted a never-before-used temporary protection mechanism that allows Ukrainian nationals the right to live, work and access public services in E.U. countries for three years. European authorities have scrambled to set up new housing for Ukrainian arrivals, and railway companies have waived ticket fees for the refugees. An army of volunteers has offered arriving refugees food, clothing and shelter.
Japan, a country that has long been unwelcoming to refugees, has taken in Ukrainians. And President Biden announced plans on Thursday for the United States to accept 100,000 Ukrainians, partly through more agile mechanisms than the conventional U.S. refugee program.
The treatment stands in stark contrast to Europe’s past resistance to taking in asylum seekers from Muslim-majority countries and Africa, leading some to accuse European leaders of racism and Islamophobia. Those charges have been fueled by accounts of third-country, non-White nationals who tried to leave Ukraine being pushed to the back of the line at border checkpoints.
Some European officials have made frank admissions that they are giving preferential treatment to refugees with whom they share a cultural affinity.
“These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told journalists, of the Ukrainians.— The Associated Press (@AP) February 28, 2022
Syrian journalist Okba Mohammad says that statement “mixes racism and Islamophobia.” https://t.co/iQJHFkP9bG
Poland continues to turn back migrants from the Middle East at its border with Belarus — an example of the discrepancy in policies toward Ukrainians and other groups, Adam Bodnar, a law professor at SWPS University, told The Washington Post this month. Seven years ago, when large numbers of Syrians were fleeing war, Poland refused to accept an E.U. quota system to resettle mostly Muslim refugees.
Since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Poland has taken in the majority of Ukrainian refugees — more than 2 million. Authorities in Warsaw have worked to expand the housing stock, and Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a law reducing school registration paperwork for families and allowing the creation of bilingual classes in Polish and Ukrainian.
Hungary, which built barbed-wire fences and established “border hunters” to stop asylum seekers from countries such as Afghanistan, has welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open arms.
In Calais — a port city in northern France known for its bleak, informal camps where migrants and asylum seekers wait to attempt perilous journeys aboard trucks or dinghies bound for Britain — Ukrainians have been welcomed by British immigration officials and put on buses toward the United Kingdom while those who fled war in South Sudan or other parts of the non-Western world have remained stuck for years.
“In many other regions of the world — far too many — the devastation inflicted on millions of innocents is no less real and no less cruel,” Grandi, the U.N. refugee commissioner, said. “The right to seek and gain asylum is universal. It is not conditional on the colour of your skin, your age, gender, beliefs or birthplace. Respect for refugee rights is not open to interpretation or negotiation.”
Grandi also said thousands of third-country nationals have fled the war in Ukraine “including some in need of international protection or at risk of statelessness.”
“Many have reached safety or returned to their home countries, however, there are persistent reports of unequal or discriminatory treatment,” he said.
The statement added: “Even a single case of racism or discrimination preventing anyone from fleeing violence or from accessing asylum and safety is one case too many. We will continue to work with authorities inside Ukraine and in neighboring countries to ensure everyone fleeing the same violence and tragedy of war in Ukraine, is offered the same safety and protection.”