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How the international community treats refugees: A commentary by Frank Giustra

April 08, 2022

Migration crisis on the border with Belarus_GettyImages_NzpnSelective empathy: An observation on classes of refugees

“These are people who are Europeans, so we and all other countries are ready to welcome them. In other words, this is not the refugee wave that we are used to, where we don’t know what to do, people with an uncertain past—are they terrorists?”

These are the words spoken by Bulgaria’s prime minister, Kiril Petkov, in reference to the millions of Ukrainians who have crossed into neighboring countries since the Russian invasion began on February 24. This sentiment, whether spoken aloud or not, is prevalent among many European politicians. It helps explain the stark contrast between the approach being taken with Ukrainians and that afforded to other refugees, such as those fleeing terrible situations in Syria, Afghanistan, and across Africa. European leaders are bending over backwards to welcome Ukrainian refugees. Meanwhile, people of African descent and other racial/ethnic minorities have faced discriminatory treatment as they flee Ukraine.

Fearing those who don’t “look like us” or who worship God in a different manner is neither new not unique to Europeans. Hungary’s populist leader, Viktor Orbán, labeling all refugees from the Middle East “economic migrants” in contrast to the “proper” Ukrainian refugees is not that dissimilar to Donald Trump calling Mexicans “murderers and rapists.”

To be clear: I am all for helping Ukrainians in this time of need, and I am supporting two humanitarian organizations on the ground there: CORE and World Central Kitchen. That said, I feel compelled to point out the inconsistency in how the international community treats refugees depending on their race, color, and religion....

Read the full commentary by Frank Giustra, founding partner of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, co-chair of the International Crisis Group, as well as founder of Lionsgate Entertainment, Giustra Foundation, Acceso, and Million Gardens Movement.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Nzpn)

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