On February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine in an escalation of a conflict between the countries which included the Russian annexation of the Southern region of Crimea into Russia following a coup against pro-Russian Yanukovich president in 2014. This has naturally led many Ukraine to flee to neighboring countries not wishing to get caught up between their own country’s forces and the invading Russians. The vast majority of the international community has condemned the invasion as an unacceptable escalation further encroaching on the sovereignty of a foreign country.
Many commentators have pointed out a remarkable difference in the public discourse in the mainstream media between how it treated refugees from Muslim countries like Syria, Palestine and Afghanistan and refugees from a European country like Ukraine with the latter being universally embraced in the west but the former being subject to extreme demonization as invaders.
Commentators made comparisons to Iraq and Afghanistan prompting a reaction from Muslim commentators and accusations of bias. In The Guardian, Mousata Bayoumi wrote, ” ts – add up to is not real human solidarity for an oppressed people. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s tribalism. These comments point to pernicious racism that permeates today’s war coverage and seeps into its fabric like a stain that won’t go away” in response to CBS foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata saying “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen”.
Bayoumi went on to give other examples who made their careers of demonizing Syrian refugees jumping to welcome Aghan or Syrian refugees who were different in terms of religion and color. He went on to make it clear that Ukrainians did deserve rogue but pointed out that western countries were doing so not out of compassion and humanity but nationalism. He concluded by saying “ if we reserve our help exclusively for them while denying the same help to others, then we have not only chosen the wrong reasons to support another human being. We have also, and I’m choosing these words carefully, shown ourselves as giving up on civilization and opting for barbarism instead.”
The situation of Ukrainians has also attracted empathy and support from Muslim refugees given their shared experience of being displaced by foreign invasions. According to The New York Times, “Many in the region[the Middle East] took to social media to express sympathy for Ukrainians forced to flee,” while pointing out hypocrisy on how Europe treated people from their region who wanted to make a life after fleeing conflicts which the continent did have a role in creating.
For example, Dr. Khoury said, “like many others, I also saw how these same countries who have put up so many obstacles to refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East open their borders to Ukrainians.” Furthermore, there was shared sympathy in that Syrians also fled Russian bombing in support of Syrian dictator Bashaar al-Asad, “Many Syrians who oppose the government of President Bashar al-Assad watched the invasion of Ukraine with particular interest, having personally experienced a Russian military intervention in their country that destroyed cities and displaced huge numbers of people.” In that sense, there is an increasing sentiment that refugee policy that welcomes all in need regardless of what they look like or how they pray.