White man's burden: Europe's special treatment of Ukrainian refugees and what that tells us

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov calls Ukrainian refugees 'intelligent and educated' while other refugees remain 'people with unclear pasts, who could have been terrorists'.

Published: 03rd December 2022 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 05th December 2022 10:55 PM   |  A+A-

Ukranian refugees in Poland

Ukrainian refugees wait for a transport at the central train station in Warsaw, Poland.(File Photo | AP)

The same white supremacist attitude that led the west to colonise other countries, justify imperialism and make people of colour their slaves is now depriving millions of refugees of protection. While Ukrainian refugees are being welcomed with open arms into Europe, walls are being built across European borders to stop refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and other African and Middle-eastern nations. Seems like being 'Christian' and 'White' is what makes Ukrainians more important than other refugees.

Europe welcoming millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Putin's aggression while not accepting others exposes their double standards towards refugees. The grim history of migrants who made it to the continent tells us that refugees are not welcomed there for long, with Ukraine being an exception. During the 2015 Syrian influx, the EU kept telling the world that they didn't have the capacity to host so many asylum seekers, but this crisis tells us a different story.

The reality is that it boils down to the refugees being white or non-white.

In 2015, Hungary refused to accept non-EU refugees calling them 'Muslim invaders' and terming migration 'a poison'. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov calls Ukrainian refugees 'intelligent and educated' while other refugees remain 'people with unclear pasts, who could have been terrorists'. If branding Muslims as terrorists and inhumanely leaving them to die in waters and border crossings isn't racism, then what is?

Security concerns are often highlighted by the EU in denying refugees entry. With the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in France and Belgium, European politicians have highly racialised terrorism and are justifying not accepting non-white refugees on these grounds.

Syrian refugees watch health workers visiting a refugee camp in Lebanon in October to help contain a cholera outbreak. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

If you believe that it's the physical characteristics alone that gives a certain group supremacy over another, then you are wrong. Scientists, in fact, have said that race isn't biological. The only biological race that exists is the human race (Homo Sapiens). The distinction we have been witnessing for centuries now is a social construct. Spain's Gitano Genocide, the treatment of Gypsies as the other in European Society, and the racial ideology of the Nazis, which led to the holocaust, are all evidence of long-standing racism within Europe.

ALSO READ | Walked for three days, slept in jungle, starved: Bangladeshi refugee recounts escape to Mizoram

While some may argue that the Ukrainians seeking refugee are permitted into Europe on temporary protection status, the likelihood of Russia ending the war is unpredictable. Moreover, more refugees are moving further into the EU from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, and data shows that one in four Ukrainians had already wanted to start their lives in the EU even before the beginning of the war. With this being the case, how can one justify the border treatment by the authorities when it comes to people of color?

Numerous media reports have depicted how non-white refugees from India and Africa are at times not allowed to enter the EU. The UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi recognizing the discrimination said, "There has been a different treatment... There should be absolutely no discrimination between Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians, Europeans and non-Europeans. Everyone is fleeing from the same risks."

Europe's attitude has highlighted how refugee protection must actually work. During times of crisis, countries must keep their borders open for people fleeing the war, just like Europe did for Ukrainian refugees. All countries need to understand the definition of refugees as people fleeing war and violence, even when they are not 'Christian' and 'White'.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino's statement that Europe should be 'apologising for the next 3000 years' aren't vague words. While the EU is criticising Qatar for human rights abuses, they have themselves failed to uphold human rights through their hardline approach towards refugees.

Mahita Owk is Candidate, Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA), Frederick S Pardee School of Global Studies. Boston University


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  • Girish

    I was told that Ukranian refugees are largely women and children and old men. The men between age 18 to 60 are fighting the war The immigrants from Syria
    1 month ago reply
  • Vejay

    Writing an immature piece of opinion is easy and living with immigrants who come to a country with a firm belief in living in ghettos and demanding sharia law in the name of religious freedom is completely a different thing. When you are young
    1 month ago reply
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