Ukraine Invasion: An Ordeal For Africans At The Ukrainian Borders?

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After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been many reports of discrimination at the border against black Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians (Indians, among others) trying to flee the country. The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine for neighboring countries is one million as of March 3, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

According to a March 1 census published on the UNHCR website, 453,982 of them have found refuge in Poland alone, according to these figures. Hungary comes next with 116,348 refugees, or 14% of the total. Slovakia, for its part, was hosting 67,000 refugees (8%) as of March 1 and Russia 42,900 people (5.1%). Romanian media reported by the DPA news agency mentioned the figure of 120,000 people who have come from Ukraine since the Russian invasion, but more than half of them have only transited there.

According to the same agency, the Czech Republic, which does not border Ukraine, claims to have registered 20,000 arrivals since the beginning of the crisis. Poland, where Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently received the President of the European Council Charles Michel, is thus without question the first country to observe an exceptional influx of people fleeing Ukrainian territory.

1. Numerous accounts of racial discrimination at the border

On both the Ukrainian and Polish sides of the border, people of African ethnicity were reportedly forced to wait for much longer than others to cross or were forced to walk long distances where Ukrainian families were being taken in by bus. On social networks, videos shared with the keyword #AfricansInUkraine show scenes of high tensions between border guards and people of African origin, at the border between Ukraine and border countries like Poland.

https://twitter.com/ajplusfrancais/status/1497993683588694017 (AJ+ français sur Twitter : ““On n’est pas autorisé, toute personne noire, à entrer par la barrière. Seuls les Ukrainiens sont autorisés”. Les expatriés africains en Ukraine qui tentent de fuir la guerre dénoncent le traitement qui leur est réservé. #AfricansinUkraine https://t.co/B5WVwQmFnG” / Twitter)

Several African nationals have told of being prevented from boarding trains and buses leaving Ukrainian territory, even though locals were using them, reports L’Obs (« C’était un cauchemar » : les réfugiés africains victimes de racisme aux frontières de l’Ukraine (nouvelobs.com)).

“It was a nightmare, honestly, the police were not at all friendly with foreigners, especially blacks; they called us names, they pointed guns at us, they pushed us around,” Theresia Kabimanya, a young Congolese woman of 25, an engineering student in Odessa, told the daily “Le Monde“(Guerre en Ukraine : le difficile exode des étudiants africains (lemonde.fr)).

The African Union denounced an “unacceptable” and “racist” treatment of Africans. The Ukrainian foreign minister finally acknowledged mistreatment. “Africans seeking to evacuate are our friends and should have the same opportunities to return to their countries safely,” he reaffirmed in a tweet on March 1.

2. Time-limited security in Europe

European Council President Charles Michel discussed the issue with Mateusz Morawiecki and said at a press briefing with him that the Polish Prime Minister had given “a strong guarantee of ‘zero discrimination.” “We want to make sure that the crossing is safe for everyone who wants to cross the border,” the Belgian added.

The Ministers of the Interior of the 27 Member States have validated that Thursday, March 3, the activation of the “temporary protection”(Guerre en Ukraine : l’Union européenne s’accorde pour octroyer une “protection temporaire” aux réfugiés (francetvinfo.fr)) provided by a directive of 2001 and never used. From now on, after entering the EU, Ukrainians and long-term residents of Ukraine are eligible for immediate protection.

This is intended to provide quick and uniform rights in the EU for people fleeing the conflict, without overburdening the institutions handling asylum applications in the member states. Not everyone crossing the border from Ukraine is eligible for this temporary protection, however, EU officials said Wednesday.

A foreign student fleeing Ukraine, for example, should be able to cross the border into the EU, but will then be helped to return to his or her home country if necessary.

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