Calling out a double standard in treatment of refugees from Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has unleashed “new, overt, and cruel manifestations of racism” in Europe, according to three experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a March 15, 2022 article in Foreign Policy in Focus, the authors—master of public health students Abdoulie Njai and Micaela Torres, and Margareta Matache, director of the Roma Program at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and a Harvard instructor—noted that Brown, Black, and Roma people fleeing Ukraine are experiencing racism and violence. They noted that, “at the borders, people received different levels of support based on their perceived identities and value in society.” For example, many African students reported waiting at the Polish border in freezing temperatures even as busloads of white Ukrainians were allowed in ahead of them. In Romania, police officers aggressively removed Ukrainian Roma women from refugee-dedicated rooms.

“The message that European countries have been delivering for years is that they have the power and willingness to open their doors to refugees, but only if those refugees look like ‘Europeans’,” the authors wrote.

The article acknowledged that Ukraine needs international support and aid, and emphasized that the efforts in Ukraine should set a standard for how humanitarian measures and assistance should be implemented in other parts of the world, such as Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. The authors wrote, “The international community needs to prove to the world that melanin is not the ingredient that determines whether [refugees’] lives are worth saving.”

Read the Foreign Policy in Focus article: Ukraine: The Refugee Double Standard