Several nonprofit organizations working with asylum seekers have denounced French authorities for racially discriminating against non-European refugees while maintaining welcoming policies towards Ukrainians fleeing from the ongoing war with Russia with open arms, local media reports said.
“At a time when Ukraine has re-focused attention on refugees, it’s important to remember…that people from many different countries are also here fleeing the most terrible conflicts and the fear of persecution. We should be welcoming all of them,” non-governmental organization (NGO) Care4Calais said Monday in a Twitter post.
NGOs working in northern France’s Calais region adjoining the English Channel, a major hub for unauthorized border crossings to Britain, have been criticizing government authorities on social media for the unequal treatment towards refugees and migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
“In Calais, while associations have been asking for accommodation for people stranded at the border for years, places have been freed up in just a few days for people arriving from Ukraine,” Utopia56 said in a Twitter post on March 4.
The NGO mentioned that a hostel has been opened up for Ukrainian nationals arriving at the Calais station who are warmly received by citizen's associations.
“For all these people in exile, from Ukraine or elsewhere, from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, sleeping on the sidewalks and camps of Calais, Grande-Synthe, Paris, Rennes...the Ukrainian situation proves it: it is possible to decide to welcome with dignity,” the Utopia56 tweet said.
Since Russia launched its war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, more than 1.5 million people have fled the fighting to Central European countries. Many of these countries have dismantled the tough border entry rules and relaxed policies meant for non-documented refugees to facilitate Ukrainians to find a safe passage, temporary accommodation and transportation.
In a display of solidarity, the French public railway company, SNCF, has announced that Ukrainian refugees can "travel free” on its network of trains. Cross-border railway line Eurostar also declared that it would let Ukrainians travel to the UK for free.
“So why are Black refugees left to drown in the channel?,” Care4Calais tweeted on March 5.
“This is a great initiative from Eurostar, but the contrast with non-European refugees could not be starker. It demonstrates that safe routes for refugees are possible and no one escaping conflict should need to risk their lives again to cross the Channel. A better way IS possible,” it said.
Ukrainians arriving in France are also getting an official reception from the town hall authorities, who are opening up accommodation in hostels or through private families.
“We are seeing before our eyes what another potential reality could look like. The capacity to welcome people and not trap them at the frontier exists. All that is lacking is the political will to do so…Racial hierarchy and hypocrisy of welcoming Ukrainians and repressing African and Asian refugees are dangerous and contradictory,” said the Calais Solidarity Association.
Jean-Philippe Lannoy, municipal councilor of Calais, also objected to the prevalent double standards.
“At Calais, the Ukrainians are welcomed at the youth hostel opened by the order of the mayor. Great! But what about the Afghans, Eritreans, and so on who are already there? Do we leave them in the mud?” he said in a letter published on social media.
According to Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart, who is aiding the accommodation of Ukrainians rejected by the British government for trying to enter the UK without valid papers or visas, the status of the European refugees differs from non-Europeans.
“The status of migrants who are in Calais are people who are in an irregular situation, while the status of Ukrainians is a status of people in a regular situation” who are fleeing the war, she told BFMTV news.
Even as the French government was actively aiding the fleeing Ukrainians last week, police in Grand Synthe carried out eviction drives at two camping sites of refugees.
“The shelters of the exiled people were completely demolished. At least 181 tents were destroyed. It is the State that organizes the precariousness of the exiles,” the Human Rights Observers group pointed out.