As the world stands in solidarity with Ukraine and its people, the growing refugee crisis spotlight racial bias and inequality in who is and isn’t allowed to cross international borders. Several accounts surfaced online over the weekend of African students and students from the Middle East and India being denied access to transportation not allowed to cross borders into neighboring countries.
The Irish Times estimated African students comprise 20 percent of Ukraine’s international student enrollment. The outlet shared the account of a Nigerian medical student who alleged his university bused British students to the Polish border but left African students to fend for themselves.
Nigerian journalist and political satirist Adeola Fayehun opened her platform to Africans trying to leave Ukraine. One man shared his disappointment in Embassy officials and not having better support for people trying to leave the country. Being told there are refugee camps, food and other resources isn’t helpful if people can’t reach them.
Stephanie Haggerty, a BBC correspondent, confirmed several instances in the Ukrainian city of Lviv of African students having trouble leaving the country.
Another Nigerian student told Al Jazeera that their school only provided shelter for students to ride out the attack, but no other support. Al Jazeera also reported accounts from several Nigerian students who shared their experiences, including one man who described being in a vehicle that broke down and allegedly being robbed by Ukrainian nationals leaving him to walk to the border.
According to World News Tonight, the U.N. estimated at least 422,000 people had fled Ukraine for neighboring counties.
The Guardian also reported lengthy waits, upwards of 70 hours at some border crossings into Poland and closer to seven hours to cross into Slovakia.
Korrine Sky shared a video on Instagram early Sunday describing their wait in “queue” to cross the border into Romania. She said her group decided to cross into Romania instead of Poland because it was said to be a little “less congested” at the time they were traveling.
In a prior interview with Insider, Sky said she coordinated with hundreds of other students trying to figure out how to leave the country. According to Insider, the situation is complicated for many African students because many lack citizenship in a European country.
Sky explained in her Instagram video that different people had different situations, so a caravan she was traveling with had split up to try different border crossings, with some people opting to stay in Lviv. She also said there seemed to be a hierarchy at the border of Ukrainians, Indians, and then Africans.
“It’s a very stressful situation,” Sky said in her video. “We’re like Squid Games. People are just trying to get out.”
It’s important to understand that while there could very well be Russian disinformation amplifying claims as a way of undermining support for Ukraine, people continued reporting issues into early Sunday.
Historian Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon considered an expert on the region, shared a linktree with resources for embassy contacts and other verified information for those struggling to leave Ukraine. St. Julian-Varnon noted that many people who tried to evacuate Ukraine were on their own in terms of transportation, possibly accounting for reports of people having to walk.
St. Julian-Varnon echoed sentiments from Teen Vogue’s editor in chief, stressing the need for clearly sourced footage before plastering it across news outlets.
It’s also unclear if any Black people denied access to transit or waiting at border crossings are Ukrainian citizens. While a small population, there is a Black Ukrainian population that goes back a couple of generations.
Olympian Zhan Beleniuk brought home the country’s only gold medal during the Tokyo Olympics. He’s also the country’s only Black lawmaker. Despite his position and prestige, Beleniuk previously shared his own experiences with racism in the country after returning from the Olympics.
The mistreatment of African, Caribbean and Middle Eastern immigrants in Europe and the U.S. is not new. A clip of NBC News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella put a spotlight on the anti-Blackness and racism in European nation’s approach to immigrants.
“Just to put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria. These are refugees from neighboring Ukraine,” Cobiella said when asked to compare the current refugee crisis with the Syrian refugee crisis. “That, quite frankly, is part of it. These are Christians. They’re white. They’re very similar to people that live in Poland.”
As previously reported by NewsOne, Black migrants and refugees face increased difficulty and discrimination here in the U.S. The American immigration system in many ways parallels the issues within the criminal justice system.
Just as Black refugees are struggling to get to safety as they leave Ukraine, people traveling to the U.S. face similar barriers to finding a safe haven. Last fall, harrowing accounts of Haitian migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border with Mexico caught international attention as border patrol agents on horseback brandished whips at those attempting to cross.
Earlier this month, the U.S. deported Cameroonian asylum seekers despite claims of human rights violations in their home country.
“Black lives matter,” Sky said during a live stream. “Black lives should matter today. Black lives should matter in America. Black lives should matter in Europe.”
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