How Black organizers are leading their own rescue efforts for Africans fleeing Ukraine

March 10, 2022, 4:12 PM UTC

Reports of discriminatory and inhumane treatment towards Africans fleeing Ukraine during the Russian invasion have been on the rise on social media, with African students and workers documenting their experiences with anti-Black sentiment and physical and verbal attacks on Twitter with the hashtag #AfricansInUkraine

United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, Filippo Grandi, confirmed during a press conference last Tuesday that “there are instances” of differentiation of treatment at the borders based on race, but did not comment further on the racist barriers that Black refugees are facing as they leave Ukraine. 

“People said they were pushed, sent back, and physically assaulted on both sides of the border in Ukraine, Romania, and Poland,” said organizer Tokunbo Koiki, as reported by Black Enterprise.

That’s why Black organizers are trying to empower themselves and other members of the African community in Ukraine by coordinating rescue efforts. Koiki, along with Korrine Sky and Patricia Daley, started a campaign called Black Women for Black Lives, which provides Africans and members of the Black diaspora in Ukraine with updated safe routes for escape as they navigate exiting the country. The organization also disperses funds to Africans who are stranded as a result of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, and has distributed over $69,000 to over 650 Black people fleeing Ukraine as of Mar. 8. 

Koiki and her co-founders are not alone in leading efforts to help African migrants flee Ukraine. The organization Black is Polish is also working to coordinate safe housing for African refugees. Additionally, an international coalition of human rights attorneys and concerned activists have filed a United Nations appeal on behalf of African migrants who are facing racism at the border of Ukraine, as of Mar. 2, according to CNN

Following President Vladmimir Putin’s invasion of Russia last month, more than two million people have fled Ukraine and sought asylum in neighboring European countries including Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. While Africans make up more than 20% of Ukraine’s international students, they are being met with prejudicial treatment as they attempt to exit the country. Ukrainian authorities are pushing Africans to the back of long lines and barring them from boarding outbound trains to neighboring countries, according to the African Studies Association

Even animals are allegedly being given priority over African students and migrants. One Nigerian medical student claimed that she was not allowed to board several evacuation buses due to racial discrimination, but people carrying animals in carriers were allowed entry, according to The Voice, a African-Caribbean weekly newspaper in Britain. 

But the dehumanized treatment of African students and immigrants does not end if they reach border lines to neighboring countries. Non-white refugees are facing verbal harassment from extremist groups patrolling the borders of neighboring countries and being held back at various border crossings due to race

For example, after days of walking in inclement weather, three Congolese students were beaten by Polish border guards and repeatedly sent to the back of the line at the Poland border in Ukraine, before eventually being allowed to enter the country, according to The Independent.  

“Immigration guards, both male and female, called us names like n*gger and Black slut; they referred to my brother as a monkey,” one 24 year old student named Jeancy said, as reported by The Independent. Jeancy also alleges that she was beaten so “savagely” that her period came on prematurely. 

Increased reports of brutal incidents involving violence against minority refugees are exposing a double standard on how European countries treat white asylum seekers as opposed to non-white ones. Poland, in particular, has taken in more than 1.2 million refugees, a drastic reversal of their previous stance on immigration.

Last year, Poland refused to let thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the country after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko forcibly expelled them from his country. Also in January, Polish contractors began erecting a 115 mile wall with a hefty $407 million price tag to deter Syrian refugees from entering their country. However, Poland has offered solidarity and aid to Ukrainian refugees, including private car rides and neatly made guest bedrooms.

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