The head of UN refugee agency UNHCR, spoke out on Monday against the “ugly reality” that some refugees fleeing across the Ukraine border, and Third Country Nationals, have been subjected to racism and discrimination.
In a statement issued marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Filippo Grandi said that although he had been “humbled” by the outpouring of support seen by communities welcoming well over three million Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion began, many minorities – often foreigners who had been studying or working there – had described a very different experience.
“We also bore witness to the ugly reality, that some Black and Brown people fleeing Ukraine – and other wars and conflicts around the world – have not received the same treatment as Ukrainian refugees”, he said.
“They reported disturbing incidents of discrimination, violence, and racism. These acts of discrimination are unacceptable, and we are using our many channels and resources to make sure that all people are protected equally.”
The UNHCR chief noted that the refugee experience is universal, with “the same pain and sorrow; the same loss and anguish; the same relief at finding safety and trepidation of an uncertain future”, experienced by everyone on the run, “who also and equally deserve our compassion, our empathy, and our support.”
“We can – and must – salute solidarity, while also resolutely condemning acts of discrimination and bias”, Mr. Grandi declared.
He said it was important to “sit in the discomfort of recognizing that while our organization exists to safeguard the human rights of people forced to flee, some among us have experienced exclusion and inequity.
“We must try to reconcile this internal contradiction as we also witness a parallel imbalance in the world. The war in Ukraine and the devastating humanitarian crisis it has caused also presents challenges and opportunities for continued commitment and diligence in the fight against racism and discrimination.”
Mr. Grandi reiterated that many citizens from neighbouring countries – such as Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania – had provided “overwhelming acts of welcome and compassion”, opening hearts and their homes, to Ukrainians.
“A global wave of support has reminded us of our shared humanity and the power of solidarity. And while I and my colleagues at UNHCR see every day how host communities and families around the world exercise this solidarity”, he said, “we need to ensure that global responsibility sharing is strengthened for all refugees, no matter where they come from.”
He added that anti-racism meant “actively identifying and opposing racism and racial discrimination. Today – and everyday – I call on all of us to raise our voices against policies, practices, and behaviours which exclude.”
In his message for the International Day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said that “realizing the vision of a world free of racism and racial discrimination demands action every day, at every level, in every society.”
He called on people every to unite around “our common humanity and speak as one for equality, justice and dignity for all.”