European refugees from Ukraine favoured over others
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — They file into neighboring countries by the hundreds of thousands — refugees from Ukraine clutching children in one arm, belongings in the other. And they’re being heartily welcomed, by leaders of countries like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania.
But while the hospitality has been applauded, it has also highlighted stark differences in treatment given to migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa, particularly Syrians who came in 2015. Some of the language from these leaders has been disturbing to them, and hurtful.
“These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told journalists earlier this week, of the Ukrainians.“ 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 says that statement “mixes racism and Islamophobia.”
Mohammad fled his hometown of Daraa in 2018. He now lives in Spain, and with other Syrian refugees founded the first bilingual magazine in Arabic and Spanish. He described a sense of déjà vu as he followed events in Ukraine. He also had sheltered underground to protect himself from Russian bombs. He also struggled to board an overcrowded bus to flee his town. He also was separated from his family at the border.
“A refugee is a refugee, whether European, African or Asian,” Mohammad said.
The change in tone of some of Europe’s most extreme anti-migration leaders has been striking — from “We aren’t going to let anyone in” to “We’re letting everyone in.”
Those comments were made only three months apart by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. In the first, in December, he was addressing migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa. In the second, this week, he was addressing people from Ukraine.
As more and more people scrambled to flee Ukraine, several reports emerged of non-white residents, including Nigerians, Indians and Lebanese, getting stuck at borders. Unlike Ukrainians, many non-Europeans need visas to get into neighboring countries. Embassies around the world were scrambling to assist their citizens in getting through.
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