UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The rapid acceptance of Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression highlights Europe’s “double standards” around migrants, contrasting with its rejection of people fleeing violence in Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world, the director of the largest humanitarian network on the planet said on Monday.
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said he doesn’t think “there is any difference” between someone fleeing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and someone who flees from the extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria.
“Those fleeing violence, those seeking protection, should be treated the same,” said Rocca, whose organization operates in more than 192 countries and has nearly 15 million volunteers.
He pointed out at a press conference that there is “a moral imperative” to help people fleeing violence and uprisings, and “the political, public and humanitarian response to the Ukrainian crisis has shown what can be done when you put yourself first.” humanity and dignity, when there is global solidarity”.
“We expected that the Ukrainian crisis would have been a turning point in European migration policies,” said Rocca. “But unfortunately that was not the case.”
He said that the European Union still has different approaches towards migration on its eastern border from Ukraine and on its southern border, in the Mediterranean.
The war, which Russia insists on calling a “special military operation”, has unleashed one of the worst humanitarian crises in Europe since World War II.
Since Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24, more than 6 million people have left Ukraine, of which Poland has accepted more than 3.3 million, Romania more than 900,000, Hungary 605,000, Moldova 463,000. and Slovakia at 421,000, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
In contrast, Rocca said, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers trying to reach Europe continue to die, suffer mistreatment and struggle to access essential services.
Since 2014, more than 48,000 migrants have died or disappeared on the high seas, and the most dangerous route is the one migrants take across the Mediterranean to Europe, where at least 19,000 deaths have been reported, he said.
Those who do make it, mainly to Italy, Greece and Spain, are often sent to camps and have to wait a long time for a hearing on their asylum claims.
“In Europe there is a big heart and a big soul, because the European community was able to open its arms and receive millions of Ukrainians in a few days,” said Rocca. “So they lie about the threat coming through the Mediterranean, when it’s a few thousand people.”
He assured that “ethnicity and nationality should not be a determining factor in saving lives.”
“There is a double standard,” he said. “This is obvious. It is before our eyes, and we cannot deny it when it comes to seeking protection.”
Rocca was at UN headquarters for the first review of the July 2018 global convention aimed at promoting safe and orderly migration and reducing human trafficking and smuggling. The agreement was the first global document to address the migration issue and was signed by more than 190 nations. The administration of US President Donald Trump boycotted the negotiations.
Although progress has been made around the agreement, especially with regard to the Ukrainians, Rocca assured that there is still “a lot to do” to fulfill the commitments and vision of the agreement. He said that the lives of many migrants have been lost due to the inability of governments to modify their policies and guarantee safe and dignified migration.
“Governments have the right to establish their immigration policies and manage their borders,” he said. “They are obliged to do it in a way that avoids suffering and death.”