Ceesay: The Ukraine-Russia Conflict exposes the reality for many immigrants in Europe


Hangila Ceesay, Staff Writer

The ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis can only be described as heartbreaking. Ukrainians are fleeing their homes in droves, with 2.5 million leaving the country and another 2 million being displaced domestically. This has led to many refugees going to nearby countries, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, for safety. 

It appears as if this issue only affects those of native Ukrainian descent; however, 11.9% of the population is comprised of immigrants, with many coming from Africa and Asia for university. As they approach the borders of nearby countries, these foreigners are being denied asylum in the respective countries, with many being turned away or treated as second-class citizens to native Ukrainians. The officials of these countries are prioritizing native Ukrainians, most likely under racist beliefs.

The amount of immigrants attempting to leave Ukraine and being denied access to do so reveals an issue that has been transpiring amongst communities of immigrants in Europe for years: the fact that racism is still acceptable in Europe, even in humanitarian crises.

As of 2019, 2.7 million migrants live in Europe, making up 5.1% of the population. This minor amount of the population displays the homogeneity of the continent. Because of this, it is likely that immigrants are not viewed as true citizens of the European countries they reside in, regardless of how long they have primarily resided in Europe. This mindset of Europeans differs drastically from other Western countries including Canada or the United States. Both countries appear to be more aware that much of their immigrant populations –– no matter how insignificant they may appear –– are still equal citizens of their countries. 

The crisis in Ukraine is also not the first time African and Asian immigrants have faced discrimination during humanitarian crises. After the Syrian Civil War broke out during the Arab Spring, many Syrians were displaced by the conflict and chose to flee to Europe for asylum. On the entire continent of Europe, Germany and Sweden were the only two countries welcoming of the 2.9 million refugees. Fifty-nine percent of the refugees were housed in Germany and 11% were housed in Sweden; the remaining refugees were spread across multiple different countries. The many European countries that turned away these Syrian refugees are now welcoming Ukrainian migrants.

Though there are multiple reasons behind Europe’s inexcusable actions toward people of color in need, European nationalism can easily be defined as one of them. 

In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, an astonishing 8 out of 10 European countries reported over 50% of the surveyed populations believed that Syrian migrants would increase the likelihood of terrorism in their countries. Additionally, many Europeans have negative or neutral perceptions of diversity in their countries, with only half of the countries having 25% of their surveyed populations stating increased diversity betters their countries. In comparison, of those surveyed in the U.S., 58% believed increased diversity bettered the country. 

The nationalistic mindset of many Europeans, combined with the immense homogeny of the continent, makes it easy for Europe to have such ignorant perceptions of people of color. It is evident the lives of people of color are seen as inferior to those of native Europeans. There is an extensive history of mistreatment of people of color in European hands, which was made apparent as far back as colonial times when people in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania were subjected to intense violence. If the lives of people were treated as worthless compared to the lucrative resources in their countries in ages past, it is unlikely that Europeans would give much worth to people of color now.