Ukrainian evacuees wait for relocation as the sun goes down after crossing the Ukrainian-Romanian border in Siret, northern Romania
Videos and images of Ukrainians fleeing their country in search of safety have captured the hearts of many across the world.
Governments have been scrambling to ensure that Ukrainian refugees feel welcomed and as settled as possible in their new home away from home.
A Homes for Ukraine scheme was launched in the UK to rehome people coming in from Ukraine, with over 150,000 people said to have registered their interest since its launch on Thursday.
Belgian media have reported that the royal family will also open its doors to host three Ukrainian families at their royal residences by the end of April.
But there are some on the frontlines of the refugee crisis who have questioned the double standards of governments when it comes to hosting Ukrainians fleeing warzones.
After a civil war ravaged the place he once called home, Steve Ali became one of thousands to live in the Calais jungle. His memories of facing a very uncertain future then means he understands what many Ukrainians are experiencing today.
“I was in denial when I became a refugee, I never expected I would become a refugee”, he says.
But while Steve — who left his home back in Damascus in 2013 — laments the disparity between the warm welcome received by people coming in from Ukraine and the often hostile reception of African and Asian migrants, he says that the day Russia invaded was “a very dark day”.
He says that “if Ukrainian refugees didn’t receive the attention they’re receiving right now, I would’ve been feeling much worse.”
Being an asylum seeker for a lot of refugees is like being in a perpetual torturous lockdown, where you have no idea what’s going to happen.
But he also says seeing pictures of how warmly some Ukrainian refugees were welcomed by authorities is “upsetting”.
“While I think that it’s great the Ukrainian war crisis is receiving attention from the entire world, I think it also sheds some light on how other refugees from Asia and Africa are treated,” he said.
In 2015, 1.3 million people sought asylum in Europe – which is fewer than half of the 3 million people to have fled Ukraine since the war began.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimate that over 40 million people from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Nigeria among many others are still “in need of humanitarian protection or assistance”.
‘Take reckoning from this’
Steve says that there is a need to point out the “disparities” in the way refugees are being treated by authorities upon arrival.
“This crisis is really heightening that racial disparity,” he said.
The UNHCR said in its mid-year trends report that as of mid-2021, there were 83,489 pending asylum cases in the UK and 3,968 stateless persons.
Recalling his own experiences as an asylum seeker, Steve says that “being an asylum seeker for a lot of refugees is like being in a perpetual torturous lockdown, where you have no idea what’s going to happen, you don’t know when your decision will come”.
For a lot of refugees in countries like the UK, many aren’t allowed to work whilst they wait for a decision to come regarding their application.
But in the EU, Ukrainian refugees have already received a temporary protected status which grants them access, school and work.
In comparison, the one million people mostly from Syria, who reached the shores of Europe were not granted the automatic protection status.
Steve, who has now built a life for himself in the UK as a jeweller, urges authorities to “take reckoning from this”.
“Seeing this happen to others that look like you, should prompt you to be more sympathetic,” he said.
The EU said on Friday that there were no double standards in the way Ukrainian refugees were treated in comparison to their counterparts from the Middle East.
Speaking to journalists in Istanbul, EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas described the current humanitarian crisis as “unique” from a European perspective but explained that Syrians who fled their country had also had the opportunity to seek asylum on European soil.
“We will make sure that the protection we have offered [to Ukrainian refugees] becomes a universal principle in the EU,” said Schinas.
“The European Union will always be an asylum destination for those fleeing war or persecution, it cannot be otherwise. That is what defines us as Europeans,” he added.
Meanwhile, the number of Ukrainian refugees continues to rise with the UN warning that millions more may follow if the war continues.