Europe’s contrasting responses to Ukraine refugee crisis prompt criticism

‘Just to put it bluntly, These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighbouring Ukraine,’ said one correspondent

Namita Singh
Monday 28 February 2022 19:15
Comments
Watch live as Ukrainian refugees cross the border and enter Romania

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left hundreds fleeing the country, it has also brought to the fore claims of racism in the way the conflict is being covered by international media and in the policies of countries where immigrants are seeking refuge.

Ukraine’s neighbours, including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, have welcomed incoming refugees from the country and have provided them safe havens. That though in some instances that some countries can have different policies towards those refugees who arrive from conflict zones away from Europe.

“These are not the refugees we are used to. These people are Europeans,” Bulgaria’s president Rumen Radev said about Ukrainian refugees earlier this week.

“These people are intelligent, they are educated people... This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists.”

“In other words,” he added, “there is not a single European country now which is afraid of the current wave of refugees.”

Syrian journalist Okba Mohammad called these comments a mix of “racism and Islamophobia”. A refugee himself, Mohammad had to flee his hometown of Dara in 2018. Now the journalist, who lives in Spain, said he was notsurprised by the remarks.

“A refugee is a refugee, whether European, African or Asian,” he said, as he recounted living in an underground shelter to protect himself from Russian bombs, struggling to board an overcrowded bus and being separated from his family at the borders.

The change in the tone of some of anti-migration leaders after the Ukraine war has also been telling.

“We aren’t going to let anyone in,” the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban had said in December last year, as he disallowed Middle Eastern and African refugees from entering Europe via Hungary.

“We are letting everyone in,” Mr Orban now says in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion.

Commentators and journalists have not escaped criticism either.

NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella was criticised on social media for airing views carrying racist undertones.

“Just to put it bluntly, These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighbouring Ukraine… These are Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar,” the journalist can be heard saying in a clip from a broadcast from Poland in a clip.

On BBC News, Ukraine’s former deputy general prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze came in for widespread criticism on social media when he said: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blonde hair and blue eyes being killed every day with Putin’s missiles and his helicopters and his rockets.”

Al Jazeera’s English presenter Peter Dobbie on Sunday also described Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war; these are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa, they look like any European family that you would live next door to.”

The channel later issued an apology, calling the comments “inappropriate, insensitive and irresponsible”.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in