ST. LOUIS, Missouri — On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian military sent troops on three fronts and fired missiles near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. The invasion took the world by shock and world leaders in the West such as American President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the invasion. As a result of the conflict, around 2.95 million people from Ukraine have fled. One U.N. official claimed that this could become “the biggest refugee crisis this century.” Major news outlets report that a double standard is emerging in the Ukraine refugee crisis. European countries that refused to take Middle Eastern refugees fleeing from the Syrian Civil War in 2015 are now opening their borders to Ukraine refugees.
Where are People From Ukraine Going?
Many Ukrainian civilians have fled to the West with reportedly long lines of cars into Poland’s border. Other refugees are heading to Hungary and Slovakia. Arising from this situation is a double standard of the right to asylum that many compare to refugees arriving in Europe from the Middle East.
What is the Right to Asylum?
After World War II, the United Nations General Assembly declared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Paris on December 10, 1948. According to the United Nations, the UDHR paved the way for the adoption of fundamental humans at global and regional treaties. In Article 14(1) of the UDHR, it guarantees the right that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Asylum is a form of protection that allows refugees safety when they arrive at the border of a nation that meets the criteria of being a “refugee” according to international law.
The 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees established who was considered to be a refugee. The 149 State parties decided upon a refugee as someone “who is unable or unwilling to return to their home country and cannot obtain protection.” However, at the core of the convention, the principle of non-refoulment was key. Non-refoulement means that others cannot force a refugee or asylum seeker to return to a country where there may be serious physical harm or any serious threats to their freedoms. Non-refoulement is now a rule for customary international law.
While not all states that are part of the United Nations (U.N.) have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, nations including the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (U.K.), Poland and Hungary signed and must follow the appropriate legal proceedings. The countries of Hungary and Poland, which have found avenues to resist taking refugees from wars in the Middle East during 2015, are now opening their borders to Ukrainian refugees during the Ukraine refugee crisis.
What is the Double Standard?
Poland received around 1.2 million refugees from Ukraine and Polish President Andrzej Duda met with them at the border crossing facility in Korczowa. Duda spoke with reporters there and stated that “Poland would welcome them [the Ukrainian refugees]with open hearts.” Hungary welcomed 180,000 refugees with solidarity from local communities and volunteers. Additionally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated that “we’re letting everyone [the Ukrainian refugees]in.” This reaction was not the same in 2015 when Syrians were fleeing to Europe from the Syrian civil war.
According to the Guardian, the government in Poland started building a wall along its shared border with Belarus to prevent asylum seekers from entering the country. In November 2021, Polish authorities violently pushed migrants from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan from the border with an enhanced military presence and dozens of checkpoints.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, previously called refugees a threat to the Hungarian nation. In May 2019, the Hungarian government was under fire for caging, starving and denying legal representation to Hungarian refugees. According to the New York Times, organizations that tried to aid the refugee were “harassed and censored.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov spoke about the Ukrainian refugees. Petkov stated that “These people are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people.… This is not the refugee wave we have been used to…”
Tabea Linhard’s Commentary on the Double Standard
Spanish, Global Studies and Comparative Literature professor Tabea Linhard at Washington University spoke with The Borgen Project about the double standard.
Linhard stated that “The refugees from Ukraine have not and will not be the target of stereotyping or racism or Islamophobia as we have seen continuously in 2015 [The 2015 Syrian Refugee Crisis].” While both Syrian and Ukrainian refugees are both fleeing from war and looking for aid in Europe, countries such as Poland and Hungary, are accepting Ukrainian refugees because they are European.
Andrew Geddes who serves as the Director of the Migration Policy Centre stated to ABC News, “When it comes down to it, Ukrainians are seen as European.” Geddes also stated that Middle Eastern asylum seekers “are fundamentally seen as being different, racially, socially, culturally.”
How are Organizations Helping the Ukrainian Refugees?
Organizations ranging from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to the World Central Chef Relief Team are on the ground delivering food to refugees fleeing from Ukraine. The Ukraine refugee crisis showed a double standard regarding how countries accept refugees due to racial, cultural and social factors. On the other hand, the world has demonstrated promise for a better future with its united aid for Ukraine. As Linhard noted, “Now, in my view, this unified response should be the same if they’re fleeing from Ukraine or Syria or anywhere else in the world.” In the present, hope exists that any refugee can receive acceptance, no matter their differences.
– Gaby Mendoza