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Asylum Seekers on Boats vs Ukranian Refugees

Asylum Seekers on Boats vs Ukranian Refugees

Categories: Latest News

Monday March 27 2023

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce a new controversial asylum bill which has been described as “nauseating” and “unworkable”. The new bill, set to be launched by the prime minister and home secretary, will ban migrants entering the UK via small boats from claiming asylum or re-entering in the future. A duty would be placed on the home secretary to remove individuals “as soon as reasonably practicable” to Rwanda or a “safe third country” who arrive on a small boat.

However, through its plans, the bill overlooks the disturbing reality that most individuals in small boats are men, women, and children desperately fleeing violence and inhumane conditions – much like the Ukranian refugees who were welcomed by the government.

Meanwhile, the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced over 2 million Ukrainians to flee, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Moldova and Poland. Recently, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, was issued with an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which, in turn, emphasised his pariah status and underpinned the narrative that Ukranian refugees are fleeing from a war criminal. Undoubtedly, the cost of civilian life and the welfare of millions of innocent people remains costly and tragic. However, whilst the world watched in shock, patterns of subtle racism and bias plagued our news feeds across social and mainstream media. Western media outlets and politicians  exhibited subtle racism or, in some cases, overt racism and bias in their coverage concerning the conflict and the comparison of Ukrainian refugees versus refugees from elsewhere.

Indeed, it did not take too long for western journalism to demonstrate subconscious bias and subtle racism. A senior CBS reporter, Charlie D’Agata, stated that Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European city”. Likewise, an ITV reporter in Poland said, “Now the unthinkable has happened to them, and this is not a developing, third-world nation, this is Europe”. Such descriptions infer that Europe is more civilised, superior, and stable than other regions, whilst countries with high Muslim populations such as Iraq and Afghanistan are backwards. Despite the debate surrounding European foreign policy, such narratives normalise the Islamophobic stereotype of attributing conflict to regions such as the Middle East and other areas in the world and inadvertently further an ‘us vs them’ narrative.

After online outrage, D’Agata apologised for his comments. However, he was not alone to perpetuate such stereotypes or narratives. In some instances, journalists were less subtle in their racism. Many constantly referred to Ukrainian refugees as “real refugees”, pushing a soft and tolerant narrative towards them compared to presumably ‘fake’ refugees from other conflicts such as Afghanistan or Syria, and, most recently, asylum seekers arriving via small boats whom the government intends to stop through the enactment of the new bill .

An NBC reporter, live on air, mentioned, “To put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from Ukraine. They’re Christian, they’re white”. During a BBC interview, a former Ukrainian prosecutor said, ” It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair”. Rather than challenging this racist narrative reminiscent of Aryan superiority, the BBC host replied, “I understand and respect the emotion”. On the other hand, former MEP and member of the Conservative Party Daniel Hannan wrote in The Times, “They seem so like us, and that is what is shocking. Ukrainian people watch Netflix, have Instagram accounts”. Inevitably, Hannan’s words suggest that other refugees do not watch Netflix or use Instagram.

The message being propagated is that Ukrainian refugees are just like us and, as such, are worthy of our support. They have blonde hair and blue eyes. They come from Europe, a civilised place. Because they are Christians, they deserve our support over ‘lesser’ refugees, who come from regions of persistent conflict, are not civilised and do not share Western values.

Consequently, the double standard becomes all too clear. Along with being incompatible with human rights protections, such a bill inevitably serves as a cruel punishment towards those in dire need of their human rights being maintained. Worryingly, however, it is unsurprising that such a bill is being proposed considering Suella Braverman’s long-standing opposition to the Human Rights Act (HRA). The enactment of such a bill would, in turn, signal the eventual erosion of the HRA, granting ministers the power to decide who does and does not have rights – as has been the case with the emergence of this asylum bill vs the acceptance of Ukraninan refugees. Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that they are “profoundly concerned” in a statement condemning the bill, which further amplified opposition to the possible enactment.

Ultimately, much like the people of Ukraine who needed our help and support, it is essential to offer humane treatment towards all migrants instead of cruel punishments. Consequently, MEND urges the UK government to continue accepting Ukrainian refugees and the British public to help house refugees from the conflict. However, our compassion and support should not be limited to just Ukrainian refugees, but refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world searching for safety, shelter, and a future. It is a cruel irony that those fleeing Ukraine are being bombed by the same Russian warplanes that bombed Syria. Our support and compassion should not be based on favouritism due to shared culture or values but our international obligations under the Refugee Convention of helping those in need. Consequently, MEND rejects such a draconian bill in support of maintaining basic human rights via the HRA and stands in solidarity with all refugees and all those opposing the bill.


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