UN agency dismayed over reports of racism against foreigners fleeing Ukraine

By Peter Kenny


GENEVA (AA): The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, expressed dismay Tuesday over reports that foreigners fleeing Ukraine amid its war with Russia are experiencing mistreatment and pleaded for more humanity and compassion for non-Europeans and refugees from other nations.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told journalists that 677,000 people had fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war there on Feb. 24.

Grandi also spoke out about reports that have emerged of discrimination against non-Ukrainian or non-European refugees at some entry points and people’s reference to them using discriminatory or racist terminology.

He quoted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as saying that “there should be absolutely no discrimination between Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians, Europeans and non-Europeans,” as all are at risk.

Leaders from the African Union Commission had stated Monday that they are closely following developments in Ukraine and are disturbed by reports that Africans on the Ukrainian side of the border are being refused the right to cross to safety.

Reports had emerged that refugees from countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania and Afghanistan who tried to enter Poland from Ukraine faced being sent back.

The Polish prime minister’s office said such accusations were “misinformation” and that refugees from Ukraine were being admitted to Poland regardless of their nationality.

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) had also called on news outlets to be mindful of implicit and explicit bias in their war coverage of Ukraine.

It said it had tracked racist news coverage that ascribed more importance to some war victims than others in recent days.

It cited a Feb. 26 CBS News segment in which correspondent Charlie D’Agata commented: “But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.”

UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo was asked to comment at a UN press conference.

Answering questions from Anadolu Agency, Mantoo said: “No one wants to leave their home forcibly and have to flee in search of safety.”

“It’s really tragic for refugees from Ukraine, refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, and other countries as well. We have to remember that they’re all human.”

She emphasized that hate speech can endanger refugees’ lives.

“It doesn’t matter what their (refugees’) identity is or where they come from. Let’s be a little more humane and compassionate,” she said.

Liz Throssell, the spokeswoman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said “it goes without saying that such comments should not exist.”

Hundreds of Africans fleeing Ukraine were prevented from boarding rescue trains; they are stranded at the border with Poland. UK PM Boris Johnson’s Spokesman was asked response of the PM on this discrimination and whether he would take the issue up with leaders of both Ukraine and Poland. He answered that he had not seen the reports but that “we would not want to see anyone unfairly treated or left behind. We know it is a very difficult situation at the border currently. We are working very closely with the UNHCR and other organisations and Polish Government. We will monitor very carefully those reports and raise them as necessary.” 

Two Ukrainian football players were killed in the Russian bombing near Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, according to the World Players’ Union.

“Our thoughts are with the families, friends, and teammates of young Ukrainian footballers Vitalii Sapylo (21) and Dmytro Martynenko (25), football’s first reported losses in this war,” FIFPRO tweeted on Tuesday.

Sapylo, a former Karpaty Lviv youth player, was killed in conflict near Kyiv, his club confirmed on Feb. 26.

Meanwhile, FC Gostomel midfielder Martynenko was reported to be killed alongside his mother in their apartment when the building was bombed by the Russian army.

Russia began invading Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has resulted in at least 136 civilians being killed, including 13 children, according to UN estimates. Around 400 others have been injured, including 26 children.

The nationwide assault has led to nearly 680,000 people fleeing Ukraine for neighboring countries, according to the international body.

Russia intensified its aerial and artillery bombardment this week, particularly on the capital Kyiv and Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, where a massive explosion rocked Freedom Square.​​​​​​​

Kharkiv, near the Russian border, is home to some 1.5 million people, while the population of Kyiv is nearly 3 million.

Additional report by Can Erozden of the AA and The Muslim News

[Photo: A view of damaged civil settlements after Russian attacks in Zhytomyr, Ukraine on March 2, 2022. Photograph by State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AA]

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