Thousands of Ukrainians are heading to the western border to escape the Russian attack on their country, which is in its sixth day today.
The only silver lining amid this miserable situation is the openness shown by European states like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania in welcoming the refugees. More than half a million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its attack — a vast majority of them to Poland.
The openness has been near total at every level — from the political leadership right down to ordinary people, many of whom have headed to the border in the personal cars to bring back refugees to stay in their homes.
A vast majority of those arriving at the borders are women and children, as well as the elderly. Fighting-age men are being asked to stay back to fight the Russians.
Coping with the refugee situation
The EU as a whole has come together and evoked a status that it has had in its repertoire since 2001, designed to cope with refugee situations emanating from the brutal wars in the Balkans.
So far, the EU states have done a commendable job. The approach has been to give full protection to the refugees and extend all the help needed. This has meant that we have not seen the desperate scenes witnessed during earlier refugee influxes to the EU, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This time, the response has been speedy and non-bureaucratic.
However, in the midst of all this outpouring of sympathy, there have been ugly utterances in the media and by some political leaders, highlighting a racist angle during this refugee wave. A distinction is being made between the White European refugees from Ukraine as opposed to those from countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
Some political leaders are preparing their populations to admit larger number of refugees by differentiating the Ukrainians from Arabs and Africans who have tried to flee to the safety of Europe. Media organisations are speaking of “civilised” refugees that look like just another “European family”.
A refugee is a refugee, whether European, African, Arab or Asian. A refugee is fleeing for his life and his safety. The impulse is to escape danger. If they had a choice, they would stay in the homeland. No human is illegal.