Ukrainians safe from deportation, advocates demand equal treatment for all refugees

  • The United States and the EU offer temporary immigration protections to those fleeing the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
  • Immigration rights advocates say black and brown asylum seekers are still waiting for their own protections.
  • Advocacy groups are urging government officials to offer the same temporary immigration status to other refugees.

Both the United States and the European Union have announced vital temporary immigration status for Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge from the ongoing Russian invasion.

But while those designations were instituted within days, immigration rights advocates say refugees from majority black and brown countries — like Cameroon, Ethiopia and Afghanistan — are still awaiting their own protections.

“For immigrant rights advocates, the way we see the treatment of Ukrainian refugees unfold is a playbook for how all asylum seekers should be treated,” national policy director Haddy Gassama told Insider. and advocacy at UndocuBlack Network.

“We do not neglect, or in any way speak negatively about the way Ukrainian migrants or refugees are treated, it’s just that we want that same level of kindness to be replicated and offered to all people who are fleeing dangerous conditions,” Gassama added. .

Chani, a Nigerian student and other refugees from Ukraine are seen in temporary accommodation in Poland on February 28, 2022.

Chani, a Nigerian student and other refugees from Ukraine are seen in temporary accommodation in Poland on February 28, 2022.

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

Created in 1990, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) offers asylum seekers from countries experiencing conflict or disaster the security of remaining in the United States without fear of deportation. TPS designations typically last between 6 and 18 months at a time. The EU has its own Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), first instituted in 2001, which is usually in effect for one year.

On February 24, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, escalating a war between the two nations that began in 2014. Since then, the UN reports that more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country , the majority crossing the border into Poland. .

While it took the US and EU days to extend legal status in the form of TPS and TPD to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Ukraine-Russia conflict, black immigrant advocates told Insider that this process can usually take months or even years.

Asylum seekers from Cameroon, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo have long demanded the same protections from the conflicts currently facing their home countries.

However, the temporary protections of the United States and the EU have not yet been extended to foreign nationals of these countries. Refugees currently residing in the US and EU are under constant threat of deportation.

“It’s very clear that anti-blackness exists in these systems. These systems are built on white supremacy. As a result, black migrants still bear the heaviest burden of the cruelty of these systems,” Gassama said.

US and EU granted TPS status to Ukrainians less than two weeks after Russia invaded

In most cases, TPS is not granted without a concerted campaign by members of immigration advocacy groups, which includes petitions, letters to lawmakers, and calls for direct action from government officials. government. In some cases, it can take years for the wave of pressure to reach those in the halls of DC, Gassama said. In 2021, Venezuelan nationals were granted TPS status in the United States only after years of advocacy by immigration rights groups. In the case of the Ukrainians, no campaign has been launched, advocates told Insider.

It’s unprecedented, black immigrant groups told Insider.

“For us to do this work day in and day out, to see a designation happen in days – not weeks, not months, not years – that’s good news because of the situation, but it also proves that these decisions can be made in days,” Gassama said. “And that there is no difference between the armed conflict unfolding in Ukraine and the multiple armed conflicts unfolding in Cameroon.”

Non-white refugees fleeing conflict in Ukraine have also faced increased violence. In March, far-right nationalists in Poland attacked African and South Asian refugees arriving at the border.

“Anti-darkness is global. Racism and xenophobia are global and endemic in all immigration control systems,” Gassama said. “Whether here in the United States, in Europe or in other parts of the world.”

Cameroonian refugees are seen in N'Djamena, Chad, on December 9, 2021.

Cameroonian refugees are seen in N’Djamena, Chad, on December 9, 2021.

Djimet Wiche/AFP via Getty Images

Black refugees are fleeing war and political upheaval, defenders say

Countries in the South, such as Cameroon, Sudan and Ethiopia, have experienced years of political instability and armed conflict. Cameroon’s ongoing civil war alone has displaced more than 700,000 people.

A Human Rights Watch report released last month found that between 2019 and 2020, the United States deported dozens of Cameroonians to Cameroon, where they were raped, imprisoned and faced other forms of persecution.

The report also found that U.S. authorities subjected Cameroonian refugees to human rights abuses in U.S. immigration detention centers, such as physical abuse by ICE agents and the solitary confinement. The report says US authorities have also failed to fairly adjudicate many refugee cases while allowing the confiscation of their documents – a violation of international law.

“The people who were deported were not only sent back for doing harm, but they were mistreated by the administration here,” Daniel Tso, bail fund coordinator at the Cameroon Advocacy Network, told Insider. “The defense of human rights should be universal.”

“Tthese are not the refugees we are used to”

In February, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told reporters that Ukrainian refugees “are smart, educated people” and not like “the refugees we are used to…these people are Europeans”.

A few days later, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascalurged Europe to take in Ukrainian refugees, contrasting them with Muslim refugees who he described as trying to “colonize” the country.

“Anyone can tell the difference between [Ukrainian refugees] and the invasion of young men of Muslim background of military age who attacked European borders with the aim of destabilizing and colonizing it,” he said.

These comments from European politicians only fuel other racist tropes in the media that dehumanize black and brown refugees, Abraham Paulos, deputy director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told Insider.

“I think one of the things that I hope the situation will do is push the conversation and say we’re going to lift all these excuses that black people have heard coming across the Mediterranean [Sea], crossing Central America; all those excuses really turn to ashes,” Paulos said.

Black immigration advocacy organizations plan to use the rapid US and EU response to Ukraine to encourage more protections for all refugees.

“We understand that these decisions can happen within days. We understand that the only difference between the conflict in Cameroon and the conflict in Ukraine, to be quite frank, is the skin color of those affected and our demand of the Biden administration that supports us that racial equity is something important to them is to act on those words,” Gassama said.

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