Written by Nickolas Bartel, Politics and Current Events Staff Writer
The Russian invasion into Ukraine over a year ago has displaced millions of Ukranians from their homes. (Courtey UN Women/Aurel Obreja)
MAR. 29 — Entering the second year of the war in Ukraine, Russian aggression has caused millions of people to flee their homes, joining millions of refugees worldwide who have been forced out of their homes by violence, economic decline and other reasons. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that in January 2023, 5.35 million displaced people remained in Ukraine, while 8.09 million refugees resettled throughout Europe.
The United States has arranged "Uniting for Ukraine," a program giving Ukrainian refugees a 90-day travel authorization into the country and, upon approval, up to two years in the United States with optional work authorization. Throughout the entire process, there are no fees, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"In January 2023, 5.35 million displaced people remained in Ukraine. Of those who left the country…8.09 million refugees resettled throughout Europe."
However, data from the UNHCR suggests Europe and the U.S. experienced a double standard with migration. From 2015 to 2022, 2.23 million refugees and migrants arrived on European coasts from Africa, according to the United Nations High Commissioner. Despite smaller migrant waves compared to what they are experiencing now with Ukrainian migration, the European Union reported increased anti-African migrant statements from far-right parties, racist attacks, ethnic profiling and policing discrimination after the migration spike.
"It's very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair...being killed every day by Putin's missiles,” said David Sakvarelidze, a former Ukrainian deputy prosecutor general on BBC.
Government officials outside of Ukraine such as the Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov have also expressed their views on the differences between Ukrainian refugees and other refugees.
"This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists," said Prime Minister Petkov.
"It's very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair...being killed every day by Putin's missiles." – Sakvarelidze
This racist sentiment exists in the news as well.
Ukraine "isn't a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades," said CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Charlie D'Agata on live T.V. "This is a relatively civilized, relatively European…city".
These sentiments are not isolated to American news outlets either. Similar comments from British and French journalists discuss their increased sympathy for Ukrainian refugees.
"They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking," said British pundit Daniel Hannan to the Telegraph. "War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone."
These comments do not exist solely in an echo chamber. Many scholars, including H. A. Hellyer from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a fellow at Cambridge University's Centre for Islamic Studies, are pushing back against and questioning the intents of such statements.
"This double standard is so evident in how we as Westerners engage in international relations," said Hellyer in a Washington Post Op-Ed. "Far too often, we dehumanize non-White populations, diminishing their importance, and that leads to one thing: the degrading of their right to live in dignity."
Many of these statements promote the discriminatory idea that conflict in "savage non-Western" nations is more understandable than in "more civilized" Western countries. Additionally, these sentiments ignore Ukraine's decade-long fight with unmarked Russian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists in border regions.
This double standard impacts the United States as well on its southern border. The Council for Foreign Relations reports an average five-year processing wait for those seeking asylum and legally entering the United States. Some migrants continue north despite the five years wait for an overwhelmed system and numerous risks of abuse, human trafficking, inhumane conditions or even deportation on the journey.
"The Council for Foreign Relations reports an average five-year processing wait for those seeking asylum and legally entering the United States."
However, even if migrants successfully reach the border, there are still risks. Title 42 was a policy enacted as a part of the public health emergency declaration in March 2020 allowing the denial of migrants into the U.S. It had expelled 1.7 million attempted migrants, even those seeking asylum, despite this right provided by both U.S. and international law. In February 2023, the Supreme Court canceled arguments regarding the constitutionality of Title 42 after it announced that the case would be moot with Biden expected to lift the public health emergency this May.
Because of the Trump-enacted and Biden-maintained "Remain in Mexico" policy, Central American migrants have been waiting for their cases' hearings from backed-up immigration courts while waiting on the Mexican border. A new memo obtained by CNN reports that immigration officials are exempting only Ukrainians on a case-by-case basis from Title 42 and allow them entry into the United States while rejecting Central American refugees.
Even before approaching the border to try to apply, the refugees were treated differently. The New York Times reported that Ukrainian refugees were offered pastries, juice and coffee as they waited, while the Honduran refugees were only allowed to sit on the grass.
"A new memo obtained by CNN reports that immigration officials are exempting only Ukrainians on a case-by-case basis from Title 42 and allow them entry while rejecting Central American refugees."