Ukraine war reveals the ugly face of racism in Europe

March 5, 2022 - 20:18

TEHRAN – The war in Ukraine has sparked public backlash in other parts of the world against what activists and observers call the resurgence of “racism” in Europe.

There have long been heated debates about such sensitive issues as eurocentrism and racism. The war in Ukraine just rekindled these old debates after many Western reporters and journalists used words and descriptions in their coverage of the crisis in Ukraine which were widely seen as pejorative and insulting to non-Western people, particularly those living in the West Asia region and Africa who have long suffered from ill-treatment in the West.

The debate started when CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata drew a comparison between the people of Ukraine and Iraq, saying that the Ukrainian people are relatively civilized and European. 

After describing the agonies of war in Ukraine, D’Agata said the country “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.”

The remarks drew widespread reactions from people in West Asia and Africa.  And the video of D’Agata went viral on social media platforms. It was viewed more than seven million times on Twitter. 

Coupled with a warmer European welcome for Ukrainian refugees, D’Agata’s remarks aroused questions in the East over whether Ukrainian refugees deserve more sympathy for being “relatively civilized and European.”

“If this is D’Agata choosing his words carefully, I shudder to think about his impromptu utterances. After all, by describing Ukraine as ‘civilized’, isn’t he really telling us that Ukrainians, unlike Afghans and Iraqis, are more deserving of our sympathy than Iraqis or Afghans?” wondered Moustafa Bayoumi, an American writer of Egyptian descent, in an opinion piece for The Guardian. 

D’Agata’s views of Ukraine were just one example of how Western reporters differentiate between refugees. Some European officials who often do not utter such controversial comments on refugees have shown in action how much they discriminate against refugees. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is a case in point. Just a few months ago, the prime minister was toughening restrictive measures against refugees coming mainly from West Asia. 

But he is now offering a “friendly place” to Ukrainian refugees. 

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski also was keen to welcome refugees from Ukraine. “We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it,” he said. 

“The open-arm welcome for those fleeing Ukraine stands in sharp contrast to the treatment of previous waves of refugees from places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Just two months earlier, Orbán said Hungary was keeping its restrictive immigration policies: ‘[W]e aren't going to let anyone in’,” wrote MPR reporter Laurel Wamsley.

She said “race no doubt plays a role in attitudes” toward the Ukrainian refugees. 

Ever since a large number of Ukrainians started fleeing Ukraine, there have been reports of discrimination against African refugees in Poland and Ukraine. 

An international coalition of activists and human rights attorneys on Wednesday announced they filed an appeal to the United Nations on behalf of African refugees facing racial discrimination in Ukraine and Poland, CNN reported. The filing follows numerous reports from Black refugees who said they faced segregation, racism and abuse as they tried to flee for safety from war-torn Ukraine to Poland.

According to CNN, coalition members said during a news conference Wednesday they have also heard reports of segregated lines for white and Black people at the Polish border and Black mothers and children have been thrown off trains. Videos shared on social media have shown groups of Black people stranded at the border not being allowed in and various threats against Black people who attempt to cross.
 

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