How to be a ‘lucky’ migrant? Rule Number 1: Don’t look like a migrant.

by | Jul 7, 2022 | Migration | 0 comments

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

By Aaminah Azoor

How do we construct what a migrant looks like? Is it the stereotypical adult male of ethnic background, speaking a language that we do not understand? Is it a veiled woman cradling her newborn baby? Or is it a European family, dressed in jeans and speaking English?=

A migrant could be anyone. It could even be you.

The invasion of Ukraine is predicted to create the “largest refugee crisis this century”, the UN refugee agency has warned, with up to 4 million people fleeing the country in the coming weeks and months The Guardian. There has been solidarity with the Ukrainians plight and fierce condemnation of Russia with countries such as Poland and Hungary opening their borders fully for everyone fleeing Russian attacks.Furthermore, the Polish authorities have offered free train travel and access to healthcare whilst the EU is proposing to simplify border controls where Ukrainian refugees can travel for 90 days visa free throughout EU countries.


However, it has been reported that people of colour, mainly students from the Middle East and Africa have faced racial discrimation when trying to cross borders. Some students have said they faced racist treatment, obstruction and violence trying to flee Ukraine: being prevented from boarding buses and trains whilst priority was given to Ukrainian nationals Relief Web. It is inhumane that our response to migrants differs according to their race, despite them all suffering through desperate situations, fleeing the effects of climate change, war and persecution. A particular country to reference this hypocrisy is Hungary. The country has refused to admit refugees from non-EU countries since the 2015 “refugee crisis”- Prime Minister Victor Orbán has described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and migrants as “a poison” Relief Web. This viewpoint is also shared by other international leaders- the Bulgarian Prime Minister stating that the Ukrainian refugees are “Europeans… intelligent , educated people ” Relief Web. which justifies their quick response in international aid. Somehow, Europeans are more deserving of help.

This problematic treatment of non-white migrants is seemingly going unnoticed, swathed under the fast paced nature of the Ukrainian invasion. There is strong evidence to show that the difference in attitudes is rooted in racism towards non-Europeans. This was possible heightened by the intensely negative media portrayal of primarily non-white migrants in the Syrian Refugee crisis which showed disorganised refugee camps and thousands of people attempting to travel into the EU- supposedly for their lucrative benefits scheme. In opposition to this commonly held view, migrants often have to pay thousands to grant a ‘safe’ passage to countries which is only possible through having a previously well-paying occupation. The most vulnerable, and the ones most likely to benefit are often deprived from the capabilities to move at all. Migrants were being continually posed as international security concerns, promoting more alarmist and pessimistic discourse.

In David Owen’s pivotal article Migration, structural injustice and domination on ‘race’ mobility and transnational difference he states that “In short, race, racism, and racial and ethnic discrimination are embedded in the history of migration, in public responses to immigrations, in the apparatus of immigration controls, and in migration flows. And this is not just a regrettable historical fact; it remains true, even pervasive.”

Owen’s comment is insightful and unfortunately true- as countries favour their predominantly white counterparts, this only helps reinforce and reproduce forms of structural injustice through racialised patterns of transnational differences. Therefore, this heightens global inequality and unequal opportunities that will only perpetuate unless we address the systemic racism that marrs Europe.

Even aid workers have felt a shift in the way their help is being received at borders in comparison to other times of crisis. Marta Górczyńska, a human rights lawyer based in Warsaw, told Al Jazeera, spoke about how working on the Belarusian border meant “dealing with the hostility from the [Polish] authorities, harassing and intimidating you, telling you that actually it’s not legal to help people who are crossing the border from Belarus to Poland” Al Jazeera. NGOs who were working on these borders are now receiving very different treatment from authorities, despite doing the same job as before.

There have been incredible stories of generosity, kindness and commitment towards humanitarian values during the Ukrainian refugee crisis. However, there are also blatant irregularities that Europe must accept in their treatment of refugees from other countries. Will we ever live in a society where we are truly equal no matter where we come from? Until then, being a ‘lucky’ migrant only has one qualification- be European, but more importantly, be white.


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