Europe’s refugee double standard makes it vulnerable – POLITICO

Bashar Deeb is an investigative journalist working for Lighthouse Reports.

If there is one positive outcome of the war in Ukraine, it is that the response to the more than 3 million refugees who have fled the country sets a benchmark for what humanitarian aid can and should look like. In countries like Poland, refugees are not greeted with tear gas and batons, but with warm sausages, blankets, Wi-Fi passwords, free Uber rides and space in people’s homes.

But while we cheer this answer, it’s important not to ignore its darker components. European politicians, like Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakis, have been quick to applaud what they are doing Describe as “real refugees” from Ukraine. But then you have to ask, who are the fakes? Is it the Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, and others from around the world that have so often been labeled as weapons or hybrid threats?

In fact, bad actors like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have tried to blackmail the European Union with threats to allow migrants to travel freely from their countries. But what the reaction to Ukraine shows is that it is not migrants who are being armed; it is the xenophobia of the EU. After all, nobody can blackmail you with unarmed black guys unless you’re afraid of them. Only a Europe that is so afraid of its far right that it eventually embraces its racist agenda can be held hostage by people seeking a better life, a safe environment in which to raise their families.

And it’s not just those fleeing violence who suffer when the EU raises its drawbridges. It is also in the EU’s own interests. When Europe beckons Ukrainians in while others float at sea on motorless life rafts, or carries out brutal pushbacks, robbing and stripping people on its land borders, it feeds propaganda directly to the Kremlin and its other enemies.

News of double standards travels widely and inevitably finds an audience. When Ukrainian students are transferred to other universities while their African classmates are sent to internment camps, it feeds the Russian propaganda machine with much-needed ammunition in a war it is otherwise losing.

Discrimination against refugees based on their ethnicity feeds news outlets like Sputnik and RT to their disinformation mills. As any Syria observer knows, Russia is a state with no sympathy for people of color, but such examples play into its hands in information warfare.

Some Western commentators have fueled this fire with journalists describe Ukrainians as civilized Europeans with white skin and blue eyes, unaccustomed to the horrors of war. A comment like this adds nothing to the story, but it does dehumanize the displacement experience of blacks and browns.

As a Syrian, I couldn’t help but feel offended when I heard these comments, but because of my work, I can see where the problem lies.

Compared to other conflicts, one reason there is so much more reporting in Ukraine is that there are so many reporters there who have full access to both sides of the country’s border. Not only is this in stark contrast to other, less well-covered wars, but also to reporters’ ability to tell the stories of people seeking refuge in Europe. It’s much easier to dehumanize people when you can’t witness their experiences.

In today’s EU there are large tracts of land – particularly on the bloc borders – that reporters cannot go to and cannot report from. These blind spots hide some of the darker aspects of EU border management.

One of these so-called exclusion zones was recently built in Poland, which is now rightly hailed as a model of compassion after Belarus pushed migrants into the country. Others were set up in Greece along the border with Turkey and in Croatia near Bosnia.

In these places, reporters had no freedom of movement or the opportunity to tell the stories of people who risked their lives to enter the EU. All investigative efforts relied on collecting digital evidence and other communication techniques to tell credible stories.

This kind of reporting is my job, and I’ve sat with colleagues for countless hours on video live streams, footage of shootings and riots stitched together using digital techniques to reconstruct events. For example, during the Poland-Belarus crisis, the no-go zone meant we could only find out who had died by looking for Facebook posts from grieving relatives. In Croatia, my colleagues had to dress up as local hunters and lie in the bushes for days to provide video evidence of extreme violence against migrants.

The stories of people on the move shouldn’t be that difficult to tell. We make choices about whose stories we tell, and those choices reveal our biases. Europe should understand that this prejudice – not the migrants – is the weapon it has put in the hands of its enemies. And the best defense against this is the kind of humanizing, intimate storytelling that has evoked such a welcome surge of sympathy for Ukrainians. Europe's refugee double standard makes it vulnerable - POLITICO

Fry Electronics Team

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