Days into the massive refugee crisis created by Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Ukrainian government has publicly acknowledged that African immigrants seeking to flee the violence have faced racist, disparate treatment compared to white Ukrainians.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that Russia’s invasion had “affected Ukrainians and non-citizens in many devastating ways”.
“Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely,” the official said, adding that Ukraine’s government “spares no effort to solve the problem.”
There have been numerous reports in recent days of African students and other immigrants facing racist treatment as they seek to flee cities under attack. This includes Black people being kept from boarding buses and trains even as white Ukrainians were able to and being kept waiting hours in the cold at the border with Poland.
Earlier Tuesday, the United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, also recognised the “different treatment” between Ukrainians and “non-Ukrainians”, as he put it.
“There should be absolutely no discrimination between Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians, Europeans and non-Europeans,” the UN official said, adding that the international organisation “plans to intervene to try to ensure that everybody receives equal treatment”.
“Everyone is fleeing from the same risks,” he added.
Several African governments have condemned the racism Africans have faced as they’ve sought to leave the war-torn country. On Monday, the Nigerian government called out “unfortunate reports” of Ukrainian police “refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains” headed toward Ukraine’s border with Poland. South Africa’s head of public diplomacy echoed similar concerns that South African students and other Africans “have been badly treated” at Ukraine’s border with Poland.
Over 600,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked last week, the UN said.
The African Union, which represents the 55 countries of the African continent, said on Monday that “reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach [of] international law”. The nations urged all countries to “show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity”.