Among the horrors and human losses, there is a seed being planted on the occasion of the tragedy of the War in Ukraine. There hangs in the air, portrayed here and there by the European media, a certain hand in conscience mixed with mea culpa about racism and ethnic preferences in relation to the unequal reception of refugees.
The press has conveyed the message of acknowledgment that there is something strange. Faced with the almost unanimous manifestation of affection and humanitarian aid in various spheres provided to the Ukrainians, it was not possible to ignore that the same did not happen with the Syrians, the Afghans, the Eritreans or the Iraqis, for example.
The Awakening of the Press
It is worth checking the European point of view. The press has been carrying interesting headlines, such as: “Arab refugees see double standards in the European reception of Ukrainians” (Swissinfo), “Europe’s different approach to Ukrainian and Syrian refugees draws accusations of racism” (CBC), “They are civilized and look like us: the racist coverage of Ukraine” (The Guardian).
It is important to note at this point that the discussion here is not about deserving help or a warm welcome. Ukrainians or anyone who takes refuge due to a war deserve and should be guaranteed all possible humanitarian collaboration, not to mention the minimum, which is dignity, food and security.
Need to talk about preferences
The reflection goes through the interesting advance of consciousness in the face of an obvious differentiation and how much this discernment could be used to help progress in this field. Even to educate about the fact that refugees suffer a lot, regardless of skin color, religion and ethnicity.
the swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger brought an article on the subject whose title inspired me: “the good and the bad refugees”. Thus, directly, the newsroom was influenced by the text by the Syrian author and photographer Joud Hasan, published in Der Spiegel from Germany.
In Hasan’s speech, transcribed by the newspaper, comes the outburst: “Not long ago Europe shrugged its shoulders while Arab, Asian and African families starved and froze on the border between Belarus and Poland. This same police, which welcomes millions of Ukrainians, had then humiliated and beaten those who sought protection. People who freeze in the same cold are treated differently because they have a different origin and skin color.”
“Like First and Second Class”
In an interview in Germany, Syrian women’s rights activist Huda Khayti asked “where did the harsh sanctions from the West go when the Russian army was raging against the Syrian civilian population? From a European perspective, there seems to be something like first-class and second-class refugees.
“We are wondering why Ukrainians are welcome in every country while we Syrians are still living in tents, under snow, facing death, and no one has been looking out for us?” a refugee told the news agency. Reuters.
The first-time granted S protection status
The Swiss government has decided to grant Ukrainian refugees the “S” residence visa, a status of permanence never before used by the authorities. For University of Friborg law professor Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf, this is an unprecedented opening. The S protection status, given in a heartbeat to Ukrainians, did not benefit Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees.
Progin-Theuerkauf welcomes the government’s decision to activate protection status. However, she understands the criticism that there is a difference in treatment.
Faced with the examples mentioned – and there are others – there is little doubt: the European public does indeed distribute its empathy according to unequal standards.
Was it really racism?
The empathy and willingness to help, in this case, is based less on racism and more on a human phenomenon, according to American philosopher Jennifer Page, who works as an assistant professor at the University of Zurich. She points to two pieces of evidence that show that compassion increases when the victim belongs to the same ethnic group.
In one study, participants are shown images of people suffering from pain. If they belonged to the same ethnic group, their brain areas responsible for empathy were significantly more activated than with images of different individuals. Other factors such as age, gender or appearance played a role as well.
“Central to this analysis is the concept of empathy in the work of Enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith,” says Jennifer Page. In his 1759 Theory of Ethical Sentiments, Smith describes a fictional, humanistically educated Londoner who would “snore in the deepest security at night” even if an earthquake had engulfed China. Geographical distance also has a value in the field of attunement.
But if the system, based on ethnicity, skin color and similarity, collaborates for a certain group, then there is a racist component.
The reports make it clear that there is a certain discomfort on the part of some Europeans. The experts themselves, when justifying the issues, often make use of adversative conjunctions to point out that there, in the heart of Europe, “race” also dictates preferences.
Discussion goes beyond racism
It is, however, a deeper issue. This includes questions of a closer war, which destabilizes Europe and important economies, and which even poses a danger of the use of nuclear weapons.
Migration policy factors also explain the different degrees of empathy shown by Western audiences. Gerald Knaus, Austrian who runs the European Stability Initiative think tank in Berlin, explains: “unlike the Ukrainians, Middle Eastern refugees did not directly flee a war zone, but in some cases stayed for a long time in other countries. Ukrainians, on the other hand, had no choice but to seek protection in the European Union.”
Knaus, who is one of the most internationally renowned migration researchers, believes that “the people of Europe do not see the Syrian dictator Assad as an immediate danger, but Putin, with his threats of nuclear weapons, do. This facilitates identification with these refugees.”
He adds: “Furthermore, almost exclusively women and children come from Ukraine. The question of whether there are terrorists among them has not yet been placed”. Many inhabitants of Europe, including Brazilians, criticized the reception of Muslim refugees, saying they were terrorists.
Diplomats and experts say European states want to house Ukrainians in part to emphasize their opposition to Putin. Northeastern University in Boston professor and program director for politics, philosophy and economics, Serena Parekh, says that “if the refugee crisis is used as one of Putin’s tools to destabilize the West, then a calm, efficient and orderly response is needed.” “On the other hand, it is hard to see that Ukrainians are white, mostly Christians and Europeans and that, therefore, there is no xenophobia against them”.
question of humanity
However, as the UN chief for UNHCR refugees in Switzerland, Anja Klug, has said, it is counterproductive to play different groups of refugees against each other. “We cannot accuse anyone who helps Ukrainians. This is absurd.”
However, Klug and Knaus share a concern: that this massive refugee crisis is absorbing all the attention and resources. And that because of that, devastating conditions like those in Afghanistan are simply being forgotten.
For the Tages Anzeiger, “discussing the issue of Ukrainian refugees in the categories of inequality and double standards is intellectually possible. But unlikely to convince anyone of a more humane fundamental refugee policy.” However, I believe that the beginning of the change process always involves the acceptance of the problem and the opening of discussions. Perhaps, when all this passes, awareness will have been a considerable gain.
This article does not represent the opinion of Brasil 247 and is the responsibility of the columnist.
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