Africans, Indians, lament maltreatment at Poland-Ukraine border

Africans, Indians, lament maltreatment at Poland-Ukraine border

Indian students in war torn Ukraine have claimed that they are being prevented from leaving the  war-torn country, while African students say they are being discriminated against and pushed back at the Medyka border crossing with Poland. 

Reports from FRANCE 24 say African governments on Monday were scrambling to help their nationals escape the Russian invasion in Ukraine as reports emerged of racist and unfair treatment of their citizens at the border with Poland. 

The reports, denied by both Polish and Ukrainian officials, have cast a pall on the massive evacuation effort that has already seen half a million civilians cross into the European Union.

The Indian students on the other hand told ‘The Times of India’ that they were harassed at checkpoints on Ukraine's border with Poland. The students said they were held in an almost hostage-like situation in the freezing cold and denied food, water, shelter and safe passage.

They claimed that the border guards were abusing them because India abstained from voting against Russia at the UN. 

Speaking in Gujarati, a student said that the Ukrainian army has reportedly been told not to let Indians cross the border, until the Indian government helps Ukraine.

Several students are of the opinion that Ukrainian residents have also turned hostile against them. The war in Ukraine has sent Indian students there, fleeing for safety. But thousands of them are stranded on the border with Poland.

While some Africans have been able to leave Ukraine, FRANCE 24 spoke to several students on Sunday at Lviv train station in western Ukraine who said they were turned back by Ukrainian border guards while attempting to cross into Poland.

“They stopped us at the border and told us that Blacks were not allowed. But we could see White people going through,” said Moustapha Bagui Sylla, a student from Guinea. He said he fled his university residence in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, as soon as the bombing began.

Like thousands of Ukrainian civilians scrambling for the border, the young Guinean said he walked for hours in freezing temperatures heading for the Polish frontier village of Medyka – only to be ordered to turn back.

Another student from Nigeria described similar scenes at the border crossing. He said his group, which included women, was shut out of the border post even as White people were let through. 

“They won’t let Africans in. Blacks without European passports cannot cross the border (...). They’re pushing us back just because we’re Black!” said the Nigerian student, who gave only his first name, Michael. “We’re all human,” he added. “They should not discriminate against us because of the colour of our skin.”

According to Bagui Sylla, the Ukrainian border guards said they were merely following instructions from their Polish counterparts – a claim denied by officials in Warsaw.

Anna Michalska, a spokesperson for the Polish border guards, said she had spent “the past two days denying such allegations”.

“I don’t know what is happening on the Ukrainian side of the border, but we let everyone in regardless of nationality,” she told FRANCE 24. 

In a later communiqué, Polish officials confirmed that no visas were required to cross the border and that identity cards and passports would be accepted, even when expired.

A spokesperson for the Ukrainian border guards also denied reports of discriminatory practices. He stressed that only Ukrainian men aged between 18 and 60 – who are required to join the war effort – were barred from leaving the country.

Regarding the numerous complaints by Africans who said they were pushed back, Andriy Demchenko said “perhaps they attempted to jump the queue”.

Civilians fleeing the war face increasingly dire conditions at the Medyka border crossing, as FRANCE 24 has previously documented. According to a report by the European Commission, the crossing can now take up to 70 hours.

For African students lured to Ukraine by the prospect of jobs and university degrees, being treated like economic migrants – rather than refugees displaced by war – is a devastating blow.

Nigeria's government has advised its citizens leaving Ukraine to head for Hungary or Romania, instead of Poland. That is precisely what the students stranded at Lviv station said they planned to do.

The Independent reports that Black people seeking to leave the country have been abandoned at border crossings, and have been discriminated against in their attempts to board public transport to evacuate the country. One citizen even told the Independent that he and his family were denied entry to a bus on its way to cross the border, being told, “no blacks.”

“I cannot imagine a scenario where white Ukranians would ever be denied asylum, so how they’re treating us is unwarranted. It’s baseless. We are all escaping so let’s push a common thread,” the citizen said.

Twenty four Jamaican students were forced to walk twenty miles to the Polish border after being stranded by their transport in the middle of the journey on the way to the border.

According to the Irish Times, an estimated 20% of Ukrainian students are African — Morocco, Nigeria, and Egypt are among the top 10 countries with foreign students in Ukraine — and it was African activists who initially started the #AfricansinUkraine hashtag to bring awareness to the issue of racism and discrimination. Since the hashtag was started, videos and images of Black and African citizens being denied evacuation from Ukraine have flooded global social media timelines. 

The UN Refugee Agency has responded to these reports in a statement posted to social media.

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