Ukraine’s refugee crisis exposes Western media's hypocrisy

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Mar 01, 2022, 06:13 PM IST

Refugees arriving from Ukraine get off a train at the railway station in the Hungarian-Ukrainian border town of Zahony Photograph:(AFP)

Story highlights

Netizens have drawn a comparison between Europe's welcoming of Ukrainian refugees and the influx of Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans, which was declared a 'migrant crisis'

The Western media's coverage of the Ukraine’s refugee crisis has exposed its double standards.

About 470,000 foreign nationals, including students and migrant workers, are stranded in Ukraine and neighbouring countries should grant them refugee if they try to flee, the UN migration agency said on Tuesday.

"We appeal to neighbouring countries to ensure that protection and shelter and access to territory is provided to all," Safa Msehli, a spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told a briefing.

The IOM has received requests from states in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa asking for help for their nationals trying to leave Ukraine and the agency is working on a coordinated response, Msehli said. So far, 6,000 foreign nationals have managed to flee to Slovakia and Moldova, she added.

Several have shared videos and testimonies on social media, denouncing discrimination at train stations and border posts.

More than 660,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since Russia launched its invasion last week, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday. That includes hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, mostly women and children, as well as third country nationals.

Netizens have pointed out the double standard, noting that while the toll of war may be similar in the respective conflicts, the media treatment is not.

Many also drew a comparison between Europe's welcoming of Ukrainian refugees and the influx of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, which was declared a "migrant crisis".

"This isn't a place, with all due respect, you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades," said Charlie D'Agata of US network CBS News.

"This is a relatively civilised, relatively European, I have to choose those words carefully too -- city where you wouldn't expect that or hope it is going to happen."

A day later, after much online furore, D'Agata apologised for his "poor choice of words".

Meanwhile, journalist Philippe Corbe said, "We are not talking about Syrians fleeing the bombardment of the Syrian regime, supported by Vladimir Putin. We are talking about Europeans who are leaving in their cars, that look like our cars... and who are just trying to save their lives."

These are just of many remarks on reputable media outlets drawing a line between the conflict unfolding in Ukraine and those in other parts of the world.

'Racist coverage'

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists' Association condemned "examples of racist news coverage that ascribes more importance to some victims of war than others".

"This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalising tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Latin America."

Political scientist Ziad Majed said that, while there was "magnificent solidarity" from the world over the Ukraine conflict, it also revealed a "shocking distinction".

The discrepancies in media treatment revealed the "dehumanisation of refugees from the Middle East", said Majed, a professor at the American University of Paris.

"When we hear some commentators speaking about 'people like us', this suggests that those coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa are not (like them)".

For Syrians, the disparity in media treatment is particularly striking as Russia launched a bloody intervention to prop up Bashar al-Assad's regime more than six years ago.

Before the war in Ukraine, Majed said, Syrian territory served as a "laboratory" for the Russian army, on which it "tested its arsenal and tactics".

The African Union (AU) said on Monday that it was disturbed by reports that African citizens in Ukraine are being refused the right to cross borders to safety as they try to flee the conflict in Ukraine.

Cities under siege across Ukraine are home to tens of thousands of African students studying medicine, engineering and military affairs. Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt are among the top 10 countries with foreign students in Ukraine, together supplying over 16,000 students, according to the education ministry. 

What was meant to be a cheaper alternative to studying in Western Europe or the United States has turned overnight into a war zone as Russian tanks, planes and ships launch the biggest European invasion of another nation since World War Two.

With flights grounded, African governments thousands of miles away are struggling to support their students. 

(With inputs from agencies)