Over half a million people flee Ukraine amid reports of racist treatment at border

Ukraine – The number of people fleeing war in Ukraine has surged to over half a million, while a scandal was brewing at the border with Poland over the alleged racist treatment of Black refugees.

Refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine at the border crossing at Medyka in southern Poland.
Refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine at the border crossing at Medyka in southern Poland.  © IMAGO / TT

More than 500,000 people have fled the war in Ukraine to neighboring countries, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

This was around 80,000 more than the figure reported on Sunday by the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The majority of Ukrainian refugees have so far fled to Poland, with around 300,000 arriving since the war broke out, according to the Polish border guard. On Sunday alone, almost 100,000 people are said to have crossed the shared border into Poland.

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UNHCR spokesperson Chris Melzer added that hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced within Ukraine, but was unable to give a concrete figure.

UN emergency aid coordinator Martin Griffiths said the UN wants to further increase its humanitarian aid in Ukraine, but needs more money and more security guarantees.

"Humanitarian workers are doing their best to respond. The UN has expanded its humanitarian presence in Ukraine. We shall continue to do so," Griffiths told the UN Security Council said in remarks from Geneva on Monday.

"We are working to ensure we can scale up our operations as quickly as possible. And we had been preparing for this for some time," he added.

"I must say that for the last three days, however, the movements of our dear colleagues in Ukraine have been seriously constrained as a result of ongoing fighting, and our inability to receive assurances from parties to the conflict that humanitarian movements will be protected. And only this evening I was fortunate to receive the beginning of some assurances to that effect."

A total of 119 humanitarian organizations are currently active in Ukraine.

More money is also needed for humanitarian aid - both within Ukraine and for the refugees outside of it. UN Secretary General António Guterres will address the international community on Tuesday.

Reports of racial discrimination at the border

Black people in Ukraine have reportedly been treated with discrimination and in some cases prevented from crossing the border into Poland.
Black people in Ukraine have reportedly been treated with discrimination and in some cases prevented from crossing the border into Poland.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

As people continue to flee Ukraine, some Black people said they had faced racism and discrimination at the border between Poland and Ukraine.

Some Black people said officials rudely stopped them from crossing the border for days, despite the cold and their lack of food or other supplies, even as they let white refugees enter the country.

Social media users were outraged by some of the videos shared, with one clearly showing a Ukrainian border guard vehicle.

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Thousands of young African students are studying in Ukraine, mostly from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia, and other countries, drawn by the high standard of education and low costs.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama called on his Ukrainian counterpart to clarify the situation. He said he had "expressed concern at the news of Ukrainian border guards hindering the exit of Nigerian citizens."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba "asserted that Ukrainian border guards have been instructed to allow all foreigners to leave. He promised to investigate and revert quickly," Onyeama tweeted.

South African students and other Africans were badly treated at the border between Ukraine and Poland, South African Foreign Minister Clayson Monyela also tweeted on Sunday.

However, Ghanaian Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said students from Ghana had not had any problems leaving the country, in a statement released on Monday.

She said 38 of the 220 Ghanaians who had left Ukraine so far had crossed the Polish border without any problems. However, more than 460 people are still on their way out of Ukraine to neighboring countries.

Polish officials deny the reports

Polish officials have denied the reports of racial discrimination, with one government spokesperson calling them "nonsense."
Polish officials have denied the reports of racial discrimination, with one government spokesperson calling them "nonsense."  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

On Monday, Polish officials denied the accusations and a spokesperson called the social media reports "nonsense" in response to dpa's query.

"The officers of the Polish Border Guard help all people fleeing the war zone in Ukraine. Nationality or citizenship do not matter," she said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Russia's attack on Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian crisis just days after the war began.

"These reports of bombs and missiles falling on civilian objects and even on kindergartens and schools mean that ... we have more and more refugees on the Polish-Ukrainian border," Morawiecki said.

Italy has declared a state of emergency until the end of the year to cope with the expected influx of refugees from Ukraine, the Council of Ministers in Rome decided on Monday.

The government can therefore take emergency measures in certain cases without prior consultations in parliament.

The country also made available $11.2 million to organize the arrival of refugees.

Refugee organization Pro Asyl welcomed how willing neighboring countries have been to accept refugees and urged that non-Ukrainians from the crisis region should also be allowed to cross the border.

"Ukraine itself has offered many people protection from war and persecution in recent years, for example from Syria, Chechnya and Somalia," the refugee organization said.

Furthermore, Afghans evacuated from Kabul and students from all over the world are also in Ukraine.

"The bombs make no differentiation as far as nationality or skin color is concerned, and just as little differentiation should be made at the borders," said Karl Kopp, who heads Pro Asyl's Europe section.

Cover photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto

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