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Africans Caught Up in the Ukraine War

From Atrocities Watch Monitor No. 3
April 2022. Read full newsletter here

Six weeks on from the start of Russian military advances in Ukraine, the crisis has sparked Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 4 million Ukrainians had fled the country by 31 March, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.1

Europe’s response to the refugee crisis has for the most part been admirable, highlighting how refugees can be supported if there is political will to do so. At the same time, however, this positive response has highlighted how much is left to be desired in international response to African refugee crises or even to the plight of Africans fleeing this one.

There were estimated to be about 16,000 Africans in Ukraine at the start of the conflict, and though their number is tiny in comparison with the millions of Ukrainians who have fled, they have faced discrimination and dehumanizing conditions.

By mid-March 80 Nigerian students remained trapped in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson which has been captured by Russian forces. They asked the Nigerian government to organize their evacuation. The Nigerian government said that it was trying to work with ambassadors in both Ukraine and Russia to assist.2 Some have tried to leave but have been turned back by Russian forces.3 In the Ukrainian town of Sumy, a diaspora coalition called Black Women for Black Lives was able to raise money and advocate for Black students in the city, who were eventually evaluated by the Red Cross.4

On 28 February 2022, the Chair of the African Union Macky Sall and the Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed concern about reports that African citizens were refused the right to cross the border safely. They reminded the international community that all persons have the right to cross the border and refusing them was not only racist, but in clear violation of international law.5 There are reports that Black people were refused at border crossings or not being allowed to board trains in favor of Ukrainians.6 African refugees from the conflict are being held in immigration detention facilities in the EU in a clearly discriminatory and unacceptable move.7 An alliance of Black attorneys has called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on behalf of African refugees facing racial discrimination in trying to flee.8

If they manage to cross the international borders, they may again face discrimination. One student said that Air BnBs in Hungary are no longer willing to rent to African students. Another student said that he left a refugee camp in Hungary because a Ukrainian man that he was housed with complained that sleeping beside a black man was traumatizing.9

They also face challenges planning for their longer-term futures. Some have gone home, including an estimated 1,000 who have returned to Nigeria. But many have invested heavily in the education that they were hoping to get in Ukraine and are desperate to continue. Some are looking to continue elsewhere in Europe, but are finding that the programs being extended to Ukrainian students are not extended to them, while some manage to get costlier Polish courses. Many who would like to study elsewhere are unable to access their transcripts and other records. Still others are managing to continue their studies through online courses.10

As prominent Nigerian human rights activist Chidi Odinkalu put it, “Following the lead of the African governments, the world is happy to tolerate the dehumanisation of the Africans caught up in the war in Ukraine.”11 More must be done to ensure that access to asylum and assistance is not dependent on race.

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1 UNHCR Data Portal: Ukraine, visited 31 March 2022, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine
2 Timothy Obiezu, “Nigeria: Trapped Nigerian Students Plead for Evacuation from Ukraine’s Kherson,” Voice of America, 16 March 2022, https://allafrica.com/stories/202203170012.html?utm_campaign=daily- headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=aans-view-link
3 “Nigerians Trapped in Ukraine’s Kherson Take Huge Risks in Bid to Leave,” VOA, 26 March 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/nigerians-trapped-in-ukraine-s-kherson-take-huge-risks-in-bid-to- leave/6502692.html
4 Catherine Thorbecke, “’We come for our own’: How Black volunteers rallied online to help African students in Ukraine,” 18 March 2022.
5 African Union, “Statement of the African Union on the reported ill treatment of Africans trying to leave
Ukraine,” 28 February 2022, https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20220228/statement-ill-treatment-africans- trying-leave-ukraine
6 Rashawn Ray, “The Russian invasion of Ukraine shows racism has no boundaries,” 3 March 2022,
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2022/03/03/the-russian-invasion-of-ukraine-shows-racism- has-no-boundaries/
7 Melody Chironda, “African Refugees Fleeing Ukraine Held in Immigration Detention Facilities,” All Africa, 31 March 2022, https://allafrica.com/stories/202203310507.html?utm_campaign=daily- headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=aans-view-link
8 Ben Crump, “International Human Rights Attorneys Ben Crump and Jasmine Rand Convene Civil Society Coalition to Appeal to the United Nations on Behalf of African Refugees Facing Racial Discrimination in Ukraine and Poland,” 2 March 2022, https://twitter.com/BenCrumpLaw/status/1499021097823571968/photo/1
9 Tobore Ovuorie, “Ukraine War: African students face Russian missiles and racism,” 9 April 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-war-african-students-face-russian-missiles-and-racism/a-61356066
10 Soraya Ali, “Ukraine war: What next for the African students who fled?” BBC News, 30 March 2022.
11 Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, “Africans and the Russia-Ukraine War,” The Premium Times, 13 March 2022, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/517038-africans-and-the-russia-ukraine-war-by-chidi-anselm- odinkalu.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Ben Crump, “International Human Rights Attorneys Ben Crump and Jasmine Rand Convene Civil Society Coalition to Appeal to the United Nations on Behalf of African Refugees Facing Racial Discrimination in Ukraine and Poland,” 2 March 2022, https://twitter.com/BenCrumpLaw/status/1499021097823571968/photo/1

9 Tobore Ovuorie, “Ukraine War: African students face Russian missiles and racism,” 9 April 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-war-african-students-face-russian-missiles-and-racism/a-61356066

10 Soraya Ali, “Ukraine war: What next for the African students who fled?” BBC News, 30 March 2022. 11 Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, “Africans and the Russia-Ukraine War,” The Premium Times, 13 March 2022, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/517038-africans-and-the-russia-ukraine-war-by-chidi-anselm- odinkalu.html

 

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