Does Ukraine Mark a Shift in Refugee Treatment? – by Felix Nicol
As the war in Ukraine continues, the difficulties of migrants fleeing from Ukraine remain at the forefront of discussion. Examples include the European Union’s temporary protection for displaced persons, which permits a flexible and simplified process in fleeing the country. In a similar sense, looking at Canadian efforts to assist migrants, we’ve witnessed the implementation of priority measures, which ensure Ukrainians are able to enter the country as quickly as possible. With this, we’ve seen a drastic shift from the problematic treatment of migrants which presented themselves in the refugee crises of the past. In particular, countries like Hungary who have rigorously defended their anti-immigrant policies in the past seem to invite Ukrainians with open arms. Is it then alright for us to consider these shifts in migration policy a marked improvement and shift away from problematic migrant treatment of the past?
Certainly, a first point of comparison comes from the Afghan refugee crisis, which started not even a year before the breakout of the war in Ukraine. Despite the short time frame between the two, the differences in policies are striking. For example, while Canada was willing to offer 14-day expedited processing for visa applications of Ukrainian refugees, no such loosening of processes was offered to Afghan refugees. We need to then wonder, are Ukrainian refugees treated better because of their cultural similarities?
Even looking at the treatment of different refugees from Ukraine can give us insights in this regard. By focusing on the experiences of Romani refugees from Ukraine, we can see that improvements are not necessarily present for all citizens. As a group which has been historically discriminated against in Europe, it comes to no surprise that though border crossing has been improved due to loosened migrant policies, many still face significant discrimination in accessing services in neighbouring countries. This includes access to lodgment, accusations of theft and requests for segregation.
In discussing these issues, it is important to recognize that the West’s improvements in migration policies should not be purely placed upon cultural similarities. However, if we are to continue to build on compassionate migration policies, we need to recognize that our efforts are not sufficient, as they do not work towards the safety of all refugees.
Mirga-Wójtowicz, Elzbieta et al. “Human rights, needs and discrimination – the situation of Roma refugees from Ukraine in Poland.” Central Council of German Sinti & Roma. 2022.
Felix Nicol is a 4th year EURUS BA student, Carleton University