Refugees And Dual Standards – OpEd


Packing up few of your belongings in a bag, gathering your children and walking into an unknown place without having an idea what awaits you, takes enormous courage. Why would one like to leave everything behind, which was ever known to them? How much pain one must be in; standing on a land which is not their native country and asking for a refuge? There are so many reasons why people leave home and country. Persecution on basis of their identity and violation of human rights is one of the main reasons as to why people are forced to flee from their homes and countries. Most people flee just because they have been targeted for belonging to a certain  race, sexuality, and religion or as a result of an armed conflict in their home country. No one wants to become a refugee by choice rather it is the war between the powerful that decides the future of the weak and results in the creation of refugees.

European leaders and Journalists in recent crisis between Ukraine and Russia have made standards for accepting refugees a bit complex. The western coastguards continue to push back refugees of different  states entering Europe and on the other hand are giving an unprecedent warm welcome to the Ukrainian refugees. This piece aims to highlight the dual standards of west for only welcoming the refugees of certain identity, region, and race into their countries. 

Normally the national governments protect the basic human rights of their citizens. Refugees in this regard do not have that privilege. They struggle for protection of their basic human rights in the absence of a nation state. Interestingly, in recent crisis between Ukraine and Russia, the west has come forward to protect and defend the rights of Ukrainian refugees by warmly welcoming them. Unfortunately, this implies that only a specific group of refugees from a certain identity and race is eligible for this kind of protection. Their dealing with Ukrainian refugees and refugees of other races is redefining the concept of refugees.

The reports coming from west strengthen the Socialists view that there are no moralities in the world order. The definitions of right or wrong are not universal but are influenced and socially constructed by powerful interest groups. What are the basic human rights? Who is a refugee?  The western definition looks very confusing at the moment.

If we see the reports of western media, from last few months it seems like their criteria for victims and acceptance of refugees is different for different regions and races. For them, “the people of specific race, region and religion with blue eyes and blonde hair” are the only acceptable refugees. 

The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in this regard said that they would  welcome hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. It is ironically the same country which denied entry to Syrian refugees to whom he said that his country did not have enough space for refugees. Media has been supporting these xenophobic prejudiced policies from the European states. One of the reporters from the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) reported that “These are not refugees from Syria, these are from Ukraine, they are Christians, they are white, they look very similar to us.” One wonders, what are the new attributes for acceptance of refugees? Being white? Christian? Not from Syria and Afghanistan?  

There have been some other reports regarding the discrimination against foreign students and people of other color at hands of Ukrainian guards. These people of color were trying to flee from a war zone country of Ukraine. They were stopped on the border and not allowed to enter into Europe unlike other Ukrainians. One of the colored men while giving interview to the media said, “They even told us like we are going to give you guns and you’re going to fight for Ukraine.” It is ironic that the people who are not Ukrainians are given weapons to fight against Russia and they are the ones who were not allowed to cross the border as refugees. Maybe they are expected to fight for Ukraine because they are not white and do not  have blonde hair which is the primary criteria to board a train and flee from Ukraine. 

When the Syrians and Afghans need refuge, these European countries do not  have space for them. They try to stop them via police crackdowns and rubber bullets. A couple of years ago, a Hungarian camerawoman kicked two Syrian migrants one carrying a child who fell down while running away from police near Serbian border. One wonders, why this systematic racism exists in Europe? Why are they treating these refugees so differently? Unfortunately, the western media and leaders have a very xenophobic way of looking at the refugees, their race, their skin color and color of their hair and eyes. The west on the one hand displays its image as the champion of human rights and its media claims to be unprejudiced and liberal. On the other hand,  introducing such racial doctrine with the colonial mindset not only questions the universal rights of refugees, but human rights as well. 

To conclude, one may argue that the developed European countries are less concerned about the fundamental rights of refugees and more interested in racial and physical appearance by setting it as the primary criteria for accepting refugees. Denying the entry to Afghan, Iraqis and Syrian refugees is not because of the space and poor economic situation of the host country but is the result of their prejudice and blatant racism. If refugees of color want refuge in any of the European Union states, they first need to fit into the new definition and criterion of west regarding acceptance of refugees which requires them to be from a specific race, skin color and region. It is a dilemma that the world and most of the human rights organization across the world are quiet on this blatant discrimination against the refugees. The world needs to move forward and discourage these racial biases and double standards. It needs to stand up for what is right and treat every single victim of conflict facing any kind of adversity with equal respect regardless of their religion, skin, race, and color. This is the peak of humanity and humanity should come before anything. 

The author is Research Officer at Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN) at BUITEMS, Quetta and PhD Fellow at Research Center for Environment and Society, Department of Sociology Hohai University Nanjing -China. He can be reached at [email protected]

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