African and South Asian students fleeing Ukraine report racism, violence at the border

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Foreign students scrambling to escape Ukraine after Russia’s invasion say they’ve been met with racist and discriminatory treatment amid efforts to reach safety in neighboring nations, news outlets reported.

First-hand accounts of Africans, South Asians and other foreigners — many of them students — being denied shelter or transport out of Ukraine began flooding social media days after Russian troops blasted their way into the former Soviet Union republic, leveling buildings, businesses and entire communities.

Rachel Onyegbule, a first-year medical student from Nigeria living in Lviv, recalled herself and other foreigners being forced off a transit bus to wait in the cold as it drove off “with only Ukranian nationals on board,” CNN reported.

“More than 10 buses came and we were watching everyone leave,” Onyegbule told the outlet of being stranded near the Ukraine-Poland border. “We thought after they took all the Ukrainians they would take us, but they told us we had to walk, that there were no more buses and told us to walk.”

“Ukrainians have been prioritized over Africans — men and women — at every point,” she said. “There’s no need for us to ask why. We know why. I just want to get home.”

Discrimination against Black people fleeing war in Ukraine compounds Russia’s crimes

Non-European refugees face ‘different treatment,’ U.N. says

Foreign nationals have reported being turned away or receiving disparate treatment from Ukrainian and Polish border agents who were accused of favoring European over non-European refugees — a claim officials from both countries have vehemently denied, France 24 reported.

United Nations officials have acknowledged the racism faced by non-white evacuees, however. Filippo Grandi, the organization’s High Commissioner for Refugees, said it was clear some people were getting “different treatments” compared to others fleeing the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

“You have seen reports in the media that there are different treatments — with Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians,” Grandi said during a March 1 news conference, according to UK outlet The Independent. “Now our observations, and we possibly cannot observe every single post yet — but our observations is that these are not state policies — but there are instances which it has happened.

“There should be absolutely no discrimination between Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians, Europeans and non-Europeans,” he said. “Everyone is fleeing from the same risks.”

Congolese student Madi Kemel Dinga recalled being among “the last people to get on anything” and said she felt the practice was discriminatory, according to Al Jazeera. Ronald Mangu Achu, a Cameroonian student, said while he understands Ukraine putting its citizens first, greater efforts should be made to get foreigners to safety.

“We have been in their country lawfully,” Achu told the outlet. “We have showed them love. I believe the least they could do is evacuate us.”

Public figures, leaders voice support for foreigners in Ukraine

Allegations of racism have prompted outcry from public figures such as Beyonce’ to government officials in the African Union. In a Feb. 28 statement, the pan-African body said it was “disturbed” by reports of African students being ‘’singled out” and denied the right to cross the Ukrainian border.

“The two Chairpersons recall that all people have the right to cross international borders during conflict, and as such, should enjoy the same rights to cross to safety from the conflict in Ukraine, notwithstanding their nationality or race,” the organization said.

United Nations officials estimate more than 520,000 people have fled Ukraine as of Feb. 28 as Russia continues to wage a war, The Associated Press reported.

The constant flow of evacuees has caused hours-long lines at Ukranian checkpoints at the borders of neighboring nations including Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

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