Treatment of refugees shows European bias

Double standards exposed in attitude to Ukrainian, African migrants, official says

A girl cries as migrants are rescued by crew members of the Abeille Languedoc ship after its generator broke down in the waters. They were trying to cross the English Channel illegally to Britain, off the coast of northern France on May 9. (SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP)

UNITED NATIONS-The ready acceptance of Ukrainians fleeing conflict has put a spotlight on Europe's "double standards" for migrants, standing against its unwelcoming attitude toward people uprooted by violence in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, the head of the world's largest humanitarian network said on Monday.

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said he doesn't think "there is any difference" between someone fleeing eastern Ukraine's Donbass region and someone escaping the Boko Haram group in Nigeria.

"Those who are fleeing violence, those who are seeking protection, should be treated equally," said Rocca, whose organization operates in more than 192 countries, with almost 15 million volunteers.

Speaking at a news conference, he said there was "a moral imperative" to help people escape violence and upheaval, and "the political, public and humanitarian response to the Ukraine crisis has shown what is possible when humanity and dignity come first, when there is global solidarity".

"We hoped that the Ukrainian crisis would have been a turning point in the European migration policies," Rocca said. "But unfortunately, this was not the case."

He said the 27-member European Union still has different approaches to migration at its eastern border from Ukraine and its southern border on the Mediterranean sea.

Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine has prompted one of the worst humanitarian crises in Europe since World War II.

Since the operation started on Feb 24, more than 6 million people have fled Ukraine, with Poland absorbing more than 3.3 million people and over 900,000 going to Romania, 605,000 to Hungary, 463,000 to Moldova and 421,000 to Slovakia, according to the UN refugee agency.

By contrast, Rocca said, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers trying to get to Europe are still dying, facing abuse and struggling to access essential services.

Over 48,000 migrants have died or disappeared since 2014 while traveling at sea, and the deadliest route is that taken by migrants across the central Mediterranean to Europe, with at least 19,000 such deaths, he said.

Those who arrive are often put in camps and face long waits for their asylum claims to be heard.

"In Europe, there is a big heart and soul, because the communities in Europe were able to open their arms, receiving millions of Ukrainians in a few days," Rocca said. "So, they lie about the threat that is coming from the Mediterranean Sea, when it comes from about a few thousand people."

Ethnicity and nationality should not be a deciding factor in saving lives, he said.

A recent report echoes his view and uses "racism" to describe Western journalism and policies against non-European refugees.

'Racist language'

"The racist language used by journalists is only the tip of the iceberg of discrimination," Asylum Access, an advocacy group, said on Friday.

The group supports forcibly displaced individuals and communities, noting that black, Asian and Middle Eastern refugees are treated differently when they arrive at the border in European countries.

According to the Asylum Access report, when Charlie D'Agata, a senior CBS News reporter, was asked to describe the tragedy taking place in Ukraine, he answered: "This isn't a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European country, a city where you wouldn't expect that or hope that it's going to happen."

While the backlash forced the journalist to apologize, "the words he said on television exposed an entire policy attitude that has been perpetrated for decades by the US and Europe toward refugees from non-European backgrounds", the report said.