Global Human Rights Defence

Double Standard Laid Bare: Middle Eastern Refugees Watch as European Countries Welcome Refugees From Ukraine With Open Arms
Ukrainian children fleeing Russian aggression, Poland. Source: Mirek Pruchnicki/flickr, https://flic.kr/p/2n6j1bq, 27 February 2022.

Department: Middle East

Author: Gabriela Johannen

Only two weeks have passed since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine and already more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries, making it the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, according to the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees. [1] Not long ago, the continent faced another humanitarian challenge with the 2015 refugee crisis, sparked then by the still-ongoing Syrian Civil War. With this most recent crisis, however, it has become painfully apparent that Europe’s hospitality is much more generous for Ukrainians than it is for Syrians. Comparing the European response to the inflow of refugees from those two different armed conflicts, we will take a look at the most significant differences. We will see that European countries are imposing a double standard, treating white European refugees vastly better compared to those coming from the Middle East.

As sudden aggression has forced many Ukrainians to flee, the vast majority of those displaced by the Russian invasion has come to the European Union (EU). [2] While more than 2 million have already fled the country, UN officials are now warning that the number of people seeking refuge in the EU could soon exceed 7 million, emphasising that this is only a rough estimate given that the ongoing fighting prevents accurate counting. [3] What has become evident, however, is that roughly 1 million Ukrainians are leaving the country every week now, with that number expected to rise as the war worsens. 

So far, the European response to the influx of Ukrainian refugees has been outstanding and a prime example of international cooperation and protection done right. For example, major telecommunications companies have introduced free-of-charge calls to Ukraine from landlines as well as mobile phones. [4] And to make reaching safe havens easier, train operators across Europe are now offering free rail transport to Ukrainians, with the Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national rail carrier, even preparing to add additional carriages on trains running from Poland to Berlin to meet demand and boost capacity; [5] upon showing a Ukrainian passport, free tickets are provided. [6] Moreover, the EU invoked the Temporary Protection Directive on 3 March 2022, a scheme first introduced in response to the Balkan Wars in the 1990s to manage large-scale refugee movements. [7] Under the directive, refugees from Ukraine are eligible for a residence permit, access to employment and education, and opportunities for family relocation and social welfare are being granted, all for up to three years and without having to apply for asylum. [8] Additionally, the European Commission put forward operational guidelines on border management that aim to simplify border controls at the EU’s borders with Ukraine. [9] Slovakia and Poland even permit entry for Ukrainians without valid travel documents such as passports. [10] This is how a refugee response should work: keeping borders open for people in need of shelter, avoiding time-consuming formalities, and making family reunification easier. 

We know, however, that this is not how the international protection regime has always worked in Europe. Treatment of Ukrainians differs significantly from that of Syrians and other nationalities in the not-so-distant past. Noticeably, countries that are now welcoming refugees from Ukraine, namely Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, had earlier garnered international attention and criticism for being particularly hostile towards Syrian refugees, refusing to equally share the burden of offering asylum among the EU Member States. While the European Union as a whole is home to over 1 million of the 6.6 million Syrian refugees in the world, the vast majority are hosted by only two European countries, namely Germany (59 per cent) and Sweden (11 per cent), according to data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In April 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union, in Luxembourg, even handed down a ruling against Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for non-compliance with migrant relocation obligations. [11] This was preceded by multiple and repeated calls from the European Commission for all three countries to abide by their obligations to accept migrants as mandated by European quotas, all of which were ignored. [12] Ultimately, the court ruled that, by refusing to comply with the temporary relocating mechanism that ensures equal distribution of refugees among the Member States, the countries had failed to fulfil their obligations under European Union law. [13] Remarkably, Poland is now a major player in the current Ukraine crisis, having taken in the highest number of refugees so far, with Poland’s interior minister Mariusz Kaminski stating last week that “we will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it”, [14] failing to mention that his country had essentially refused to take in any Syrian refugees during the Syrian war just a few years back. He also omitted to mention that Polish contractors have just begun working on a new 353-million-euro wall along the Belarus border aimed at deterring refugee crossings, mostly coming from the Middle East. [15] This is a textbook case of double standard that is difficult to bear. The Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov goes even further by stating that 

These are not the refugees we are used to (…) these people are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people (…) 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. [16] He continues by stating that (…) there is not a single European country now which is afraid of the current wave of refugees. [17]

Such comments can only be condemned and show the deep ignorance and racism of some towards non-European refugees. And yet, the Bulgarian Prime Minister does not stand alone, with Slovakia having said all the way back in 2015 that it would only accept Christians from Syria, according to The Associated Press. [18] 

Such incidents clearly show that many European countries are apparently more willing to give protection and shelter to people who are white Europeans than to brown people from the Middle East, completely ignoring that Article 1 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) equally applies to and protects refugees of all races, cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. This double standard is deeply unfair, highly disturbing, and must be condemned. While the exact reasons behind this divergent response may be hard to precisely pin down, geographic proximity can lead a country to take in more refugees than others, like in the case of Lebanon, an immediate neighbour of Syria. This, however, is no justification for blatant discrimination. Instead, the wave of empathy we have seen for Ukrainians should extend further to all refugees, wherever they may come from, whichever conflict they may flee. In the end, a refugee is a refugee. As Article 3 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) states, all Member States “shall apply the provision of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin”. [19] The Ukrainian refugee crisis presents the EU and its Member States with an important opportunity to live up to this provision, to demonstrate their universal attachment to humanitarian values and human rights, and to (re)commit to the international refugee protection system. 

Footnotes:

[1] Operational Data Portal, Ukraine Refugee Situation, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine last accessed 9 March 2022

[2] Christopher Hamill-Stewart, “How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards”, Arab News, 8 March 2022, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2038816/media last accessed 9 March 2022

[3] “Russian invasion risks displacing more than 7 million Ukrainians, says EU crisis commissioner”, France24, 27 February 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20220227-europe-must-prepare-for-millions-of-ukrainian-refugees-eu-commissioner-says last accessed 9 March 2022

[4] “Deutsche Telekom introduces free-of-charge calls to Ukraine”, Reuters, 25 February 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/deutsche-telekom-introduces-free-of-charge-calls-ukraine-2022-02-25/ last accessed 10 March 2022

[5] Sean Goulding Carrol, “EU rail companies offer fleeing Ukrainians free travel”, Euractiv, 28 February 2022, https://www.euractiv.com/section/railways/news/eu-rail-companies-offer-fleeing-ukrainians-free-travel/ last accessed 10 March 2022

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jessie Butchley, “What is the European Union Temporary Protection Directive?”, Envoy Global, 7 March 2022, https://www.mondaq.com/work-visas/1168646/what-is-the-european-union-temporary-protection-directive last accessed 10 March 2022

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Ukraine: Commission proposes temporary protection for people fleeing war in Ukraine and guidelines for border checks”, European Commission, 2 March 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/news/ukraine-commission-proposes-temporary-protection-people-fleeing-war-ukraine-and-guidelines-border-2022-03-02_en last accessed 10 March 2022

[10] “Slovakia permits entry for Ukrainians fleeing the war without valid travel documents”, Schengenvisainfo News, 26 February 2022, https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/slovakia-permits-entry-for-ukrainians-fleeing-the-war-without-valid-travel-documents/ last accessed 10 March 2022; “Poland will help all Ukrainians fleeing war with Russia: officials”, Radio Canada International, 25 February 2022, https://ici.radio-canada.ca/rci/en/news/1864902/poland-will-help-all-ukrainians-fleeing-war-with-russia-officials last accessed 10 March 2022

[11] Commission v Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Court of Justice of the European Union, Joined Cases C-715/17, C-718/17, C-719/17, 2 April 2020

[12] “European Union: Court of Justice rules against Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary for noncompliance with migrant relocation obligations”, Library of Congress, 5 June 2020, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2020-06-05/european-union-court-of-justice-rules-against-poland-czech-republic-and-hungary-for-noncompliance-with-migrant-relocation-obligations/ last accessed 10 March 2022

[13] Press Release No 40/20 on the Judgment in Joined Cases C-715/17, C-718/17 and C-719/17, Court of Justice of the European Union, Commission v Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, 2 April 2020, https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2020-04/cp200040en.pdf last accessed 10 March 2022

[14] Christopher Hamill-Stewart (n2)

[15] “Poland begins work on $400m Belarus border wall against refugees”, Al Jazeera, 25 January 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/25/poland-begins-work-on-400m-belarus-border-wall-against-migrants last accessed 10 March 2022

[16] “Double standard: Arab refugees watch as Europe embraces Ukrainians”, Daily Sabah, 2 March 2022, https://www.dailysabah.com/world/europe/double-standard-arab-refugees-watch-as-europe-embraces-ukrainians last accessed 10 March 2022

[17] Ibid.

[18] “Migrant’s crisis: Slovakia ‘will only accept Christians’”, BBC News, 19 August 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33986738 last accessed 10 March 2022

[19] Article 3 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954), 189 UNTS 137

Bibliography:

Butchley J, “What is the European Union Temporary Protection Directive?”, Envoy Global, 7 March 2022, https://www.mondaq.com/work-visas/1168646/what-is-the-european-union-temporary-protection-directive last accessed 10 March 2022

Carrol S, “EU rail companies offer fleeing Ukrainians free travel”, Euractiv, 28 February 2022, https://www.euractiv.com/section/railways/news/eu-rail-companies-offer-fleeing-ukrainians-free-travel/ last accessed 10 March 2022

Commission v Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Court of Justice of the European Union, Joined Cases C-715/17, C-718/17, C-719/17, 2 April 2020

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954), 189 UNTS 137

“Deutsche Telekom introduces free-of-charge calls to Ukraine”, Reuters, 25 February 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/deutsche-telekom-introduces-free-of-charge-calls-ukraine-2022-02-25/ last accessed 10 March 2022 

“Double standard: Arab refugees watch as Europe embraces Ukrainians”, Daily Sabah, 2 March 2022, https://www.dailysabah.com/world/europe/double-standard-arab-refugees-watch-as-europe-embraces-ukrainians last accessed 10 March 2022

“European Union: Court of Justice rules against Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary for noncompliance with migrant relocation obligations”, Library of Congress, 5 June 2020, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2020-06-05/european-union-court-of-justice-rules-against-poland-czech-republic-and-hungary-for-noncompliance-with-migrant-relocation-obligations/ last accessed 10 March 2022

Hamill-Stewart C, “How Ukraine crisis laid bare Western biases, prejudices and double standards”, Arab News, 8 March 2022, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2038816/media last accessed 9 March 2022

“Migrant’s crisis: Slovakia ‘will only accept Christians’”, BBC News, 19 August 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33986738 last accessed 10 March 2022

Operational Data Portal, Ukraine Refugee Situation, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine last accessed 9 March 2022

“Poland begins work on $400m Belarus border wall against refugees”, Al Jazeera, 25 January 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/25/poland-begins-work-on-400m-belarus-border-wall-against-migrants last accessed 10 March 2022

“Poland will help all Ukrainians fleeing war with Russia: officials”, Radio Canada International, 25 February 2022, https://ici.radio-canada.ca/rci/en/news/1864902/poland-will-help-all-ukrainians-fleeing-war-with-russia-officials last accessed 10 March 2022

Press Release No 40/20 on the Judgment in Joined Cases C-715/17, C-718/17 and C-719/17, Court of Justice of the European Union, Commission v Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, 2 April 2020, https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2020-04/cp200040en.pdf last accessed 10 March 2022

“Russian invasion risks displacing more than 7 million Ukrainians, says EU crisis commissioner”, France24, 27 February 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20220227-europe-must-prepare-for-millions-of-ukrainian-refugees-eu-commissioner-says last accessed 9 March 2022

“Slovakia permits entry for Ukrainians fleeing the war without valid travel documents”, Schengenvisainfo News, 26 February 2022, https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/slovakia-permits-entry-for-ukrainians-fleeing-the-war-without-valid-travel-documents/ last accessed 10 March 2022

“Ukraine: Commission proposes temporary protection for people fleeing war in Ukraine and guidelines for border checks”, European Commission, 2 March 2022, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/news/ukraine-commission-proposes-temporary-protection-people-fleeing-war-ukraine-and-guidelines-border-2022-03-02_en last accessed 10 March 2022

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Mandakini

Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
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Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

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Team Coordinator and Researcher
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Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

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Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.