In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an underlying threat of racial discrimination has begun to draw global attention. With the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimating over 2.6 million people to have already fled Ukraine, many have not received any support or asylum from neighbouring countries. A growing trend of “othering” has resulted in a sensitive situation taking on a gory turn as foreign residents, students and travellers remain stranded across the country.
A report by CNN, explains an incident at the Polish border, where Ukrainian security forces were seen to exhibit racist behaviour towards Africans, Indians and other foreign nationals of colour. Security forces ushered many out of fleeing buses and vehicles, leaving them stranded at the border, while only Ukrainian nationals were permitted safe passage into neighbouring countries.
Similiar incidents of discrimination have sparked outrage on social media platforms, with many struggling to escape, resort to communicating with the global population through press interviewers, urging governments to take action and support their journey out of the war-torn country. Videos of African students being beaten up, or being provoked into physical fights have gone viral.
Over the last few weeks, Ukraine has experienced an unprecedented scale of violence. This, however, has seemingly transcended their treatment of foreign individuals looking to leave the country. Many instances of violence and cruelty have been brought to light, wherein border security forces have allegedly beaten up individuals from various nationalities, and denied any border crossover, despite each having adequate documentation.
The Human Rights Watch has further condemned the blockade and delays caused by the ill-treatment of foreign nationals, the majority of whom are international students. Amid global criticism, the Ukrainian government has announced that they are taking the necessary measures to ensure individuals wanting to leave the country are granted safety and protection. A hotline for international students has also been put in place.
Despite such efforts, Judith Sunderland, assistant Europe and Central Asia Director at the Human Rights Watch has encouraged Ukrainian forces to “simplify and expedite exit procedures” while ensuring the equal treatment of both Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian individuals.
Ukraine has been a popular destination for various international students, ranging from countries such as India, Egypt and Nigeria. With numerous Nigerian and Indian students indicating the unfair and unethical treatment, the African Union has further urged Ukrainian authorities to abide by international law and ensure that everyone seeking to leave the country, is granted access to asylum without distinction of any kind.
India has further demanded safety for its citizens and already conducted numerous repatriation efforts, bringing back over 20 000 so far. According to the UN charter, each and every individual looking to leave the war-torn country must be given equal opportunity and safety, regardless of their skin colour or passport.
Notably, Europe has had a turbulent history with racial equality. The contradictory past of racial discrimination, segregation, and ill-treatment of migrants are seen to resurface as the Russian invasion progresses, despite efforts. With millions still trapped in below-freezing conditions, hiding in underground tunnels, subway stations and shelters, world leaders work towards initiating rescue missions, while urging Ukraine to open safe passages to neighbouring countries.
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