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Double Standards, Racism, and Hypocrisy Brought To Light With Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

With the Russia-Ukraine War unfolding in the past couple of weeks, the world has been anxiously watching our world’s nuclear superpowers go head to head. As of 2022, the United States and Russia possess more than 90% of the globe’s nuclear warheads, with Russia topping the United States’ nuclear warhead inventory by 549. The conflict has resulted in more than 2 million refugees fleeing Ukraine. As of March 10th, there has been an estimate of 549 civilian deaths and 957 injuries. Ukrainian refugees have received a warm welcome from the West, with the West attempting to do whatever they can to help these individuals. More than 50% of the Ukrainian refugee population has entered Poland, with many others dispersing throughout Eastern Europe.

Though I condone Europe aiding Ukrainian individuals and families, and I by no means mitigate the suffering of the Ukrainian people, there are some questions I need to ask the West–where were you for the Syrians? Where were you for the Afghanis? Where were you for the Yemenis? Where were you for the Iraqis? Where were your welcoming and open arms for the African and Middle Eastern countries? The countries that have you destroyed and exploited for your own agendas with claims of “war on terror.” There is a blatantly stark difference in the treatment that Ukrainians have received and the treatment that previous waves of refugees from places like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. 

The call to action has been much quicker to aid Ukrainian refugees in comparison to the action taken for Syrian refugees with the Syrian refugee crisis starting in 2011. In the first year of the crisis, there were over 1 million refugees. This was believed to be almost impossible to deal with. Yet, with the present Ukrainian refugee crisis, two million individuals have arrived to safety in an orderly fashion. So, I have to ask, was Europe really not able to handle a million refugees within a few months, or were the Syrians simply not “their own?” Were Syrians simply not White and Christian? 

There have been many backhanded defenses that Western leaders and media have conjured up in defending the reasoning of the difference in treatment. As of March 1st, approximately 7,373 Ukrainian refugees have entered Bulgaria. The Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Kiril Petkov, stated that “These people are intelligent, they are educated people,” when talking about the Ukrainian refugees. And the Middle Eastern refugees were not? There are many Middle Easterners that are highly educated and talented, perhaps even more so than some in the West, but much of the media and Western perception has caused individuals to believe otherwise. Prior to the Gulf War and the United States’ invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi school system was considered to be one of the strongest school systems in the Middle East. The endorsement of universal primary education, a secular curriculum, and girls’ education won Iraq the 1982 UNESCO prize for eradicating illiteracy. It is easy for Europeans and the United States to claim that European refugees are the ones that are educated, and backhandedly claim that refugees from the Middle East are not. It is easy for them to say this about the people that they exploited, the country they invaded. It is easy for them to mitigate the Middle East’s suffering and loss because if they did not do so, they would have to admit that The Gulf War and other Middle Eastern invasions were about colonization and imperialism. It was about exploiting a country that did not have the power to defend itself against the United States. 

Prime Minister Petkov went on to say that, “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…” For Syrian refugees, Bulgaria is notorious for its widespread racism and Islamophobia. The country is known to even have vigilante groups that “hunt” refugees typically from non-European regions and Middle East. Many reports have shown Bulgarian vigilante groups attacking Turkish and Afghani groups. Yet, it seems that Bulgaria has willingly welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open arms. It is no coincidence that Ukrainian refugees are stereotypically light-skinned and Christian, whilst Middle Eastern refugees are stereotypically dark-skinned and Muslim. 

On the Polish border, officers have given sandwiches, fruits, doughnuts, and hot tea to Ukrainian refugees. They have been greeted with hospitality. And a little over a year ago, on the Polish border, Syrian, Afghani, and Iraqi refugees were attacked with water cannons and tear gas . They were greeted with violence and hostility. 

Quite frankly, it is audacious of the West to backhandedly claim that Middle Eastern refugees are more likely to be terrorists–more likely to be violent–when if it were not for them, these regions would not be in the chaos that they are in. In a talk given earlier this week, Dr. Yasir Qadhi, an Islamic theologian who received his PhD from Yale University, discussed the blatant racism, double standards, and hypocrisy of the West when handling the refugee crises–specifically discussing the issues in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the current issue with the war in Ukraine. He stated, “The Middle East and Africa would not be in the way that it is and the mess that it is had it not been for 300 years of colonization… How arrogant for the West to ignore their own role? 35 years of brutal sanctions, 35 years of bombing, 35 years of false invasions, and not even an apology? And then you have the audacity to say those people are violent? Those people don’t deserve any sympathy, while you ignore your own role in creating that violence and in creating that civil war?” 

Some experts may argue that shared history with Ukraine incentivizes a more “warm welcome” from certain nations. University of Manchester’s Professor Maria Sobolewska stated that at least for Poland and Ukraine, their shared history “breeds trust and acceptance.” However, it is important to note that it is not what is being criticized. The criticism is not having a strong affinity towards “one’s own.” There is no dispute, skepticism, or criticism towards this–the criticism is towards the double standard in judgment. As Qadhi stated, “None of us should be surprised that one civilization feels more of an affinity with its own. We do the same, that's not the issue that we’re criticizing. What we are criticizing is that there seems to be two different sets of scales. Two different judgments when the same action is done by two different people.”

I do not mean to mitigate the suffering of Ukrainians. My heart goes out to the individuals and families that have to experience the horrors of war, but the Muslim community is tired. The Middle Eastern refugee community is tired. We are tired of being belittled and dehumanized. We are tired of the media, both subtly and blatantly, categorizing us as second-class citizens. We are tired of being accused of being inherently violent when we come from a religion whose followers greet each other with “salam” which means “peace”. We are tired of having to work twice as hard and push twice as much for our voices to be heard and our needs to be met simply because of our creed. Simply because of our ethnic or racial backgrounds. Simply because a decision was made to exploit us, and no accountability was taken.  

I believe it is important for us to help Ukrainians in their time of need, it is also important for us to recognize and be wary of the double standard that is currently present. We need to acknowledge these double standards and racism that has been present when our world handles humanitarian issues. 





Suha is currently studying at UB. She is majoring in Political Science, with a minor in Philosophy. Suha is an avid writer and a chicken nugget enthusiast! Her passions include art, reading, politics, writing, and the color purple. Suha hopes to be able to use Her Campus as a means of not only using her voice, but giving others a platform to share their stories as well.
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