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Yes, there is evidence African citizens faced discrimination at Ukraine’s border

Global leaders and humanitarian organizations have received accounts of African citizens being denied border crossing in Ukraine, among other discrimination.
Credit: AP
A student covers herself in blanket at the Medyka border crossing after fleeing from the Ukraine, in Poland, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.

African citizens and other nonwhite refugees are reportedly facing discrimination at Ukraine’s border as they try to flee from the conflict with Russia. 

Comedian Leslie Jones shared a video on Instagram that claims to show Ukraine police pushing a Black girl off of a train. The same video has also circulated on Twitter. Another video shared on Twitter reportedly shows Ukrainians blocking Africans from getting on rescue trains.  

Many viewers texted the VERIFY team to ask whether Africans, Nigerians and other nonwhite refugees looking to escape from Ukraine have experienced discrimination. 

THE QUESTION

Is there evidence of African citizens facing discrimination at Ukraine’s border?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, there is evidence of African citizens facing discrimination at Ukraine’s border. Following public pressure, those who were initially denied crossing into Poland have been allowed to travel freely, humanitarian organization World Relief says. 

WHAT WE FOUND

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Since then, more than one million people have fled to neighboring countries. Some of those seeking refuge are African students in Ukraine and others who are in the process of applying for visas. 

Humanitarian organizations and other leaders say they have received first-hand reports of African citizens and others who have experienced discrimination at Ukraine’s borders. 

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement on Feb. 27 that there have been “unfortunate reports of Ukrainian police and security personnel refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains heading towards [the] Ukraine-Poland border” from video evidence, first-hand reports and those in contact with Nigerian officials. The African Union wrote in a statement one day later that it was “particularly disturbed” by similar reports about African citizens who were refused the right to cross Ukraine’s border. 

Poland has been the primary recipient of refugees from Ukraine, World Relief reports

Human rights attorneys who represented George Floyd’s family have since announced that they are appealing to the United Nations on behalf of African refugees facing discrimination in Ukraine and Poland. The appeal comes after “several reports and video evidence of physical violence, segregation, and discrimination” preventing Africans from fleeing, Ben Crump Law, PLLC wrote in a press release posted to Twitter on March 2.

The reports of discrimination have also extended beyond Black Africans. E. Tendayi Achiume, United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, said in a statement that Indian nationals, Pakistani nationals, people of Middle Eastern descent and others have also “sent urgent reports documenting life-threatening racist and xenophobic treatment.”

“Some report being denied access to bomb shelters within Ukraine, many report border guards preventing them from crossing the border or pushing them to the back of queues for transportation that would grant them safe passage out of the country and, in some cases, they report being denied access to consulates of their countries of origin in neighboring countries. Many — including babies — are being forced to wait longer in below freezing temperatures with no shelter,” Achiume said.

Both the African Union and Achiume say the treatment is a violation of international law, with Achiume explaining that the law requires the “non-discriminatory protection of human rights.”

World Relief, a nongovernmental humanitarian organization, said it received information during a briefing of international humanitarian and relief agencies that there was racial profiling, adding that some African citizens and others were detained at Ukraine’s borders. The organization says that those who were denied crossing were allowed to travel freely into Poland “after pressure applied by the international community and media.”

“We were informed that after a period of time and congestion, the situation eased considerably and most people who wished to travel into Poland were allowed to do so regardless of documentation,” Charles Franzen, Director of Humanitarian and Disaster Response at World Relief, wrote in an emailed statement to VERIFY. 

The European Union (EU) wrote on March 2 that border guards can authorize non-EU nationals to enter a member state’s territory “on humanitarian grounds even if they do not fulfill all entry conditions,” such as a valid passport or visa. Guards can also temporarily relax border checks for some people, the EU said. 

In a tweet on March 1, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressed the reports of discrimination. 

“Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely,” Kuleba wrote. “Ukraine’s government spares no effort to solve the problem.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on the same day that “there should be no discrimination among those fleeing Ukraine,” addressing reports of “differentiation of treatment at the borders.” Grandi added that he was assured “these are not state policies” even though “there are instances in which it has happened.” 

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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