LONDON: The invasion of Ukraine exposed anti-Arab and anti-Muslim biases in European policymaking and media. For hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers hunted down, rejected or stranded, however, the revelations of prejudice and favoritism should come as no surprise.
In the most recent incident – a classic case of double standards – a Danish politician suggested that Ukrainian refugees could be exempted from laws that had allowed authorities to seize the assets of Syrian and Iranian refugees.
Rasmus Stoklund, immigration spokesman for Denmark’s Social Democratic government, told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet last week that the so-called jewelery law should not be applied to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict because they come from a “close region”.
Later, Stoklund said, “The Jewelery Law is for if you leave the nearby region where you are safe and travel to safe countries…but that’s not the case for Ukrainians.”
The highly controversial laws meant that incoming asylum seekers were allowed to keep assets worth up to 10,000 Danish kroner ($1,468), but anything valued above that figure could be seized by the state to pay for their stay in the country.
The potential exemption of Ukrainians from this law has highlighted the very different treatment Ukrainians have received since the invasion of their country, compared to what Syrians and other nationalities – most of them from Middle East and Africa – have suffered fleeing similar conflicts over the past decade.
“The 2016 law was largely symbolic, intended to send an unwelcoming and hostile message to people who might otherwise seek refuge in Denmark,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, at Arab News.
“Now the authorities want to send the opposite welcome message, but only to Ukrainian refugees.
“Creating an exemption for Ukrainian refugees is clearly discriminatory – if they don’t have to hand over their valuables, why should any refugee?”
The proposed change “crystallizes the stark contrast between the EU’s response to Ukrainian refugees and the bloc’s response to Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans…the list could go on”.
Sunderland added: “The empathy and generosity extended to Ukrainians should extend further to all refugees, regardless of their nationality, religion or skin color.”
His concerns are shared by Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, who believes that “Danish law was bad in the first place – no matter who it applied to.
“So on some level (I am) delighted if Denmark is lifting this law for Ukrainian refugees,” he told Arab News. “But, as we see in many countries, there is a completely different reaction to the reception and the way people treat Ukrainian refugees than refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other regions.”
This, according to Doyle, “should not be how countries cook up their refugee policies.”
The Danish Embassy in London did not respond to an Arab News request for comment.
As of Tuesday, more than two million people had fled Ukraine, a country that had a population of about 40 million before the war. The vast majority of those displaced by the Russian invasion flocked to the EU.
Poland has been a key European voice amid the Ukraine crisis and has taken in the largest number of refugees – more than a million people in less than two weeks.
Similarly, on Monday, according to UN figures, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia had taken in at least 180,000, 100,000 and 123,000 people respectively.
“We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland to everyone who needs it,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said last week, failing to mention that during the Syrian war Poland, as well as as Hungary and the Czech Republic, had essentially refused to take in Syrian refugees.
This categorical refusal to host Syrians earned them a reprimand from the European Court of Justice for refusing to follow European laws on the reception of refugees. Slovakia, for its part, received only a tiny number of Christian refugees during the Syrian crisis.
Kaminski also failed to mention that just a few months ago his government erected a $380 million wall between Poland and neighboring Belarus to block thousands of non-EU refugees seeking asylum in the EU. .
As many as 19 of these refugees have died in the months of this border crisis – now largely forgotten amid Ukrainian fury – which has shown the world, in no uncertain terms, the hostility of the Polish government towards non-European refugees.
Doyle said: “There is an argument that geographical proximity can perhaps cause a country to take in more refugees…but it certainly shouldn’t lead to discriminatory policies based on race, ethnicity, etc.
“The world is watching. The world sees a very different set of standards applied to Ukraine and to conflicts in the developing world,” he said.
News of the proposed changes to Danish legislation follows a plethora of controversy online and in the media surrounding coverage of the Ukrainian conflict compared to other such conflicts and crises outside of Europe.
Twitter videos circulating online, accumulating millions of views, testified to casual racism mainly from Western journalists in their coverage of the war.
For example, at the start of the conflict and live from Kyiv, CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata said, “Now, with the Russians coming in, it has completely changed the calculus. Tens of thousands of people tried to flee the city. There will be many more, people hiding in bomb shelters.
“But it’s not a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict rage for decades. It’s a relatively civilized, relatively European city — I also have to choose those words carefully — a city where you wouldn’t expect this, or expect this to happen.
His “relatively civilized, relatively European” comment – for which he later apologized – drew widespread condemnation, with accusations of racism pouring in from Arab journalists, many of whom had been covering conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere for a long time. years.
In another instance, a guest on BBC coverage said the Ukraine war was “very emotional for me because I see blue-eyed, blond-haired Europeans being killed”.
But for Doyle, this type of media discourse does not provoke anti-Arab or anti-Middle Eastern bias; in fact, it’s “a reflection of a broader underlying racism,” he said.
Doyle added: “I think there’s a public opinion issue here. We have seen for some time the growth of far right, anti-immigrant views and anti-refugee views.
“And it confirmed what most of us realized: that they are anti-immigrant if they come from non-European countries, from Muslim-majority countries – but they are not so anti-immigrant if they come from European countries like Ukraine. ”