Issue 23

One for All or All for One? Equality in the Ukraine Refugee Crisis

Maahira Jain

The jarring difference in attitude and assistance provided to Ukrainians versus the Syrian refugees of 2015 continues to elicit questions of differentiation in treatment. How efficient and inclusive are the social welfare schemes offered by other countries?

As the conflicts between Russia and Ukraine continue to plague the people, civilian housing, and facilities have faced major destruction. The residents of several cities have been forced to evacuate to neighboring countries and refugee centers. The crisis is notably the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War 2

The civilians are fleeting towards western countries mainly Poland, Romania and Moldova who have cumulatively housed around millions of Ukrainians. Primarily the Schengen areas have stepped up due to the lack of internal border controls, creating a certain ease in the evacuation process. While the process has been ongoing since February now, the UN continues to estimate at least 6.5 million people who are still scattered across Ukraine, owing also to logistical delays of the lengthy queues at all borders. 

While the United Nations in unison with the Ukrainian and other governments is carrying out several humanitarian services, including monetary assistance, shelter and transit points, the evacuation of those living in besieged cities remains strained. As Russia allegedly continues to shell these towns, with no ceasefire to allow for safe transportation, those in the town of Mariupol and the Azovstal plant are in dire straits.

Furthermore, what defines a refugee, and to whom access to these habitating services is granted only includes Ukrainian citizens or foreign students with visas. In a crisis like this should a hierarchy of ethnicity or discrimination of any kind come into play ? The latest survey, conducted between April 11 and April 17, found that at least 60% of those internally displaced are women and children. This section of the population being majorly at risk, for cases of trafficking and sexual assault are being given priority. 

The jarring difference in attitude and assistance provided to Ukrainians versus the Syrian refugees of 2015 continues to elicit questions of differentiation in treatment. While the extent and portrayal of the destroyed homes, and stranded women and children is alike, why are countries like Germany now willingly harboring several Ukrainians in ways they denied the Syrians ?

As Moldova rolled out a welcome wagon to all Ukrainian refugees, Bea Ferenci, the UN Human Rights advisor, anticipated unfair treatment of the Roma minority group. The group being previosuly subjected to racial and biased discrimination is more prone to face negligence during evacuation procedures. However authorities have partnered with the Swiss Development Cooperation to provide the additional assistance and accessibility to the Roma refugees.

Besides Roma, refugee discrimination seeps further, with instances of relgious acceptance. Israel reportedly has only been sheltering Jewish citizens or those with a Jewish lineage. The Homes for Ukraine initiative started by the UK too, has faced criticism as staff and workers have come forward, calling it flawed. It is said to be crafted in a way which allows minimal entry of people into the UK, by not granting visas to entire families, providing almost no training to the staff and a lack of overall clarity. 

While countries like Switzerland are also offering social welfare schemes to aid the refugees who they accommodate in asylums and with families, the costs of living in Zurich makes survival even harder. The already displaced Ukrainians now struggle to meet daily food requirements, as the 500 Swiss francs budget is insufficient. Homes can no longer provide meals, and asylums and shelters sparingly distribute food. Can such restricted and meager support truly be considered a scheme for social welfare ? Is the help being offered only name-sake ?

Not only European leaders, but President Biden who first declared that the United states would take in 100,000 Ukrainians has now launched a new refugee sponsorship programme. It essentially allows for one to apply for temporary residency on humanitarian grounds. The refugees will be permitted to work and stay in the country for a period of two years. Owing to the strain on the humanitarian resources, the burden of Ukraines large-scale crisis has diverted attention away from the other ongoing global refugee situations like Afghanistan and Syria. 

Foreign countries aside, locals and citizens have stepped forward to aid what is deemed by the Pew research center, the sixth largest refugee crisis in the last 60 years. People in the Donbas region are hesitant to leave behind their fellow citizens, and are refusing to leave their now bombarded homes.  Aleksandr Prokopenko,a local of Popasna, a village now in shambles and primarily a battleground, told CNN in an interview about his love for his town and people and his desire to help them despite the circumstances. This native hero now drives to and fro from his hometown rescuing those in need. 

Babar Baloch, a spokesperson for the UNHCR said “The war in Ukraine has triggered one of the fastest-growing displacement and humanitarian crises ever.” To combat such mass-movement of populations there is a need for effective humanitarian resources. The existing system has been put to test with other global crises like the pandemic and economic inflation which have made it harder to control. It has also diverted attention away from the other ongoing global refugee situations like Afghanistan and Syria.The selective accommodation, biases and rigid policies disable true humanitarian services from unfolding. So as the world now witnesses one of the largest refugee crises, is the world moving towards a more inclusive system?

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and travelling.

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We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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