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‘A Shocking Distinction’: Europe’s Solidarity with European vs non-European Refugees

It was awful to read about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the news, and then to see the catastrophic events that have followed, with over 2 million people becoming refugees. The UN Refugee Agency has a page on ‘How to help Ukraine’ which RefuNet highly encourages all readers of this blog post to have a look at: https://www.unrefugees.org.uk/take-action/how-to-help-ukraine/. However, we also want to encourage you all to help refugees from other countries just as much as those from Ukraine – we do not make the ‘shocking distinction’ that many in positions of power unfortunately seem to. (Wamsley, 2022)


For example, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has said that those fleeing Ukraine ‘are not the refugees we are used to. These people are Europeans ... These people are intelligent, they are educated people ... This is not the refugee wave we have been used to’. (Singh, 2022) Similarly, French journalist Philippe Corbé told television viewers ‘we’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin. We’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives’. (Singh) One final example of many questionable remarks we have come across is from CBS News senior foreign reporter Charlie D'Agata: ‘this is a relatively civilized, relatively European ... city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen’. (Bayoumi, 2022)


In light of comments such as these, and due to seeing support for Ukrainians from those who have not shown the same concern for other displaced people, we think it is important to draw attention to the ‘shocking distinction’ that political scientist Ziad Majed has noted. To some people, it is clear that ‘refugees of white-European, Christian orientation are preferable’. (Wamsley) This is because they are a part of the western ‘Self’, so their plight is easier to relate to than that of the refugees we have been used to seeing in the news in recent years who have largely been the eastern ‘Other’. (Said, 1979) We understand that it is easy to subconsciously fall into this way of thinking, especially due to western media arguably encouraging this belief, so hopefully this blog post will make some people reassess.


A refugee is ‘a person who has escaped from their own country for political, religious, or economic reasons or because of a war’, (Cambridge Dictionary, 2022) so we should display solidarity with them regardless of their skin colour, religion or anything else which may make them different to us – we must not make that ‘shocking distinction’, but instead ‘transcend our differences to transform our future’. (Guterres, 2017)


References:

Bayoumi, ‘They are ‘civilised’ and ‘look like us’: the racist coverage of Ukraine’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/mar/02/civilised-european-look-like-us-racist-coverage-ukraine (2022)

Cambridge Dictionary, ‘Refugee’, Cambridge Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/refugee (2022)

Guterres, ‘Message for United Nations Day’, United Nations, https://static.un.org/press/en/2017/sgsm18754.doc.htm (2017)

Said, Orientalism (New York, 1979)

Singh, ‘Europe’s contrasting responses to Ukraine refugee crisis prompt criticism’, The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/ukraine-refugees-response-europe-racist-b2024840.html (2022)

Wamsley, ‘Race, culture and politics underpin how — or if — refugees are welcomed in Europe’, National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/2022/03/03/1084201542/ukraine-refugees-racism?t=1646865196145&t=1646946628061 (2022)

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