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So Suddenly Refugees are Welcome Here? – the Double Standards Concerning the Ukrainian Crisis

So Suddenly Refugees are Welcome Here? – the Double Standards Concerning the Ukrainian Crisis

Categories: Latest News

Friday March 18 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced over 2 million Ukrainians to flee, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Moldova and Poland. Undoubtedly, the cost to civilian life and the welfare of millions of innocent people is costly and tragic. However, while the world watches in shock, patterns of subtle racism plague our news feeds across social and mainstream media. Western media outlets, politicians and sports associations have exhibited subtle racism or, in some cases, overt racism 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 is not alone to perpetuate such stereotypes or narratives. In some instances, journalists have been less subtle in their racism. Many have 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.

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. 

The war has invoked the international community to act, with western allies quick to sanction Russia, including the removal of Russia from the SWIFT banking system, to sanctioning oligarchs. Numerous multinationals such as Coca-Cola, Apple, and McDonald’s’ have either halted sales or completely suspended all forms of operation. Similarly, the world of sport has become outspoken. Consequently, many sports associations have banned Russian athletes from participating. Several Premier League teams have vocalised their support for Ukraine through gestures such as specialised captain armbands or draping the Ukraine flag before matches are played.

While showing solidarity in the face of injustice is highly commendable, questions have to be asked about the principles by which sports associations distance themselves from political gestures. In the past, where athletes or fans have shown support for human rights causes concerning political matters, sports clubs or associations have been quick to penalise such actions or distance themselves to maintain an ‘apolitical’ stance. Perhaps most notably, Arsenal FC publicly distanced themselves from Muslim footballer Mesut Ozil after he had shown support for the Uyghur Muslims facing an ongoing genocide at the hands of the Chinese government. Similarly, Celtic fans were fined by UEFA for displaying Palestine flags in a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people who for decades have had their human rights violated by the Israeli government.

It seems that sports associations and clubs choose what is political and what is not. Its inconsistent application often demonstrates the institutional Islamophobia in that actions that are often reprimanded are in relation to expressing solidarity to a matter where Muslims are predominantly the victims of human rights violations. Such campaigns are swiftly labelled as political issues or gestures, while the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are human rights and anti-racism issues.

Ultimately, the people of Ukraine need our help and support. 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 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 on the fundamental act of helping those in need.

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