Arab refugees see double standards in the arms of Ukrainians in Europe

Internally displaced Syrians walk together near a tent at a camp in Azaz
Internally displaced Syrians walk together near tents at a camp in Azaz, Syria March 1, 2022. Photo taken March 1, 2022. REUTERS / Mahmoud Hassano

March 2, 2022

By Hassan Hankir and Hams Rabah

SIDON, Lebanon/AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian refugee Ahmad al-Hariri, who fled the war in his country for neighboring Lebanon 10 years ago, has spent the past decade in hopeless hope. to escape to a new life in Europe.

Watching European nations open their arms to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians in less than a week, the father-of-three couldn’t help but compare their fates.

“We are wondering, why are Ukrainians welcome in all countries when we, Syrian refugees, are still in tents and under the snow, facing death, and no one is looking at us? to us?” he told Reuters at a refugee center where 25 families are sheltering on the edge of the Mediterranean city of Sidon.

In the Arab world, where 12 million Syrians have been ravaged by war, critics from Hariri to activists and cartoonists contrast the West’s response to the crisis. refugees due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the European way of trying to hold back Syrians and other refugees. 2015.

Some images are reminiscent of refugees walking for days in inclement weather, or losing their lives in perilous sea crossings as they attempt to breach Europe’s borders.

On Monday, four days after Russia launched the offensive, the European Union said at least 400,000 refugees had entered the bloc from Ukraine, which shares land borders with four EU countries.

Millions more are expected, and the EU is preparing measures to provide temporary residence permits as well as access to employment and social welfare – a rapid opening to the wars. in Syria and elsewhere.

By early 2021, 10 years after the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, EU countries had received 1 million Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, of which Germany alone accounted for more than half. Most of them came before a 2016 deal in which the EU paid billions of euros for Turkey to continue hosting 3.7 million Syrians.

This time was greeted immediately.

“We are here not the wave of refugees we are used to and we don’t know what to do – people with an uncertain past,” said Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, describing Ukrainians as intelligent people. Smart, educated and highly qualified.

“These are Europeans whose airport has just been bombed and is burning,” he said. Bulgaria said it would help everyone from Ukraine, which is home to about 250,000 ethnic Bulgarians.

Last year, 3,800 Syrians sought protection in Bulgaria and 1,850 were granted refugee or humanitarian status. The Syrians say that most of the refugees just go through Bulgaria to the richer EU countries.

The Polish government, which was heavily criticized internationally last year for pushing back a wave of immigrants from Belarus, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, has welcomed those fleeing the Ukraine war.

In Hungary, the country built a fence along its southern border to prevent a repeat of the influx of people from the Middle East and Asia in 2015, the arrival of refugees from the neighboring country. Ukraine has caused a wave of support and provides transportation and short-term accommodation. , clothes and food.


Hungary and Poland both say that refugees from the Middle East arriving at their borders have crossed into other safe countries tasked with providing shelter.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto defended the different approaches. “I must reject the comparison between people fleeing war and those trying to enter the country illegally,” he told a United Nations meeting in Geneva.

The welcome has diminished as Ukraine is home to a large Hungarian community.

Such ties have led some Western journalists to argue that the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine is different from the crises in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, because Europeans are able to communicate more closely with the victims. .

Their comments sparked a wave of condemnation on social media, accusing the West of favoritism. Clips of the reports went viral and were heavily criticized throughout the region.

For example, a television reporter on the American network CBS described Kyiv as a “relatively civilized, relatively European” city, in contrast to other war zones. Others said Ukraine is different because the people fleeing are middle class or watching Netflix.

CBS reporter Charlie D’Agata apologized, saying he was trying to convey the scale of the conflict. CBS did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Nadim Houry, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative, said media reports were disturbing and revealed “a lack of understanding about refugees from other places”. in the world who have the same aspirations as the Ukrainians.”


Houry and other critics also say that some governments are demonstrating double standards on the issue of volunteers wanting to fight in Ukraine against Russian forces.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Sunday supported President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s call for people to join international forces to fight the Russian army. “Sure. If people want to support that fight, I’ll support them doing it,” she told BBC television.

In contrast, British police warned Britons who went to Syria to help rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad eight years ago that they could be arrested when they returned home, saying they could pose a danger to them. security agency for the UK.

The Foreign Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Truss’ remarks. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the situation was different for militants joining groups like Islamic State in Syria, but the government would discourage people from going to Ukraine.

While their feelings of abandonment have been heightened by the welcome of Ukrainians in Eastern Europe, some refugees in northern Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have told Reuters the responsibility for their plight lies with them. government near home.

Some say Arab countries should have done more to support the military struggle against Assad, which arose from widespread protests against the president in 2011, and help help more refugees. In addition to Syria’s neighbors Jordan and Lebanon, Arab countries have taken in a small number of people displaced during the war.

“We don’t blame European countries, we blame Arab countries,” said Ali Khlaif, who lives in a tent camp near the town of Azaz in northwestern Syria. “European countries welcome that from their own people. We blame our Arab brothers, not the rest.”

(Additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs in Budapest, William James in London, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; Writing by Dominic Evans, Editing by William Maclean) Arab refugees see double standards in the arms of Ukrainians in Europe

Bobby Allyn

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