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Double standards in reporting of Ukraine's refugees expose Eurocentric bias

March 2, 2022 at 6:11 pm

A view of a train station as people who want to go to Kyiv from Kramatorsk in the Donbas region continue to wait, following Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, on February 25, 2022 in Kramatorsk, Ukraine [Aytaç Ünal / Anadolu Agency]

Since the tragedy of war in Ukraine,, more than half a million people in the country have fled for safe sanctuary, as countries welcome refugees into safety, and rightly so. The reporting however, of this tragedy has seen double standards and Eurocentric bias that hold one group of human lives more valuable than others, who are suffering conflicts in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades,” Charlie D’Agata, a CBS correspondent in Kyiv stated live on air.  D’Agata did not stop there.  He went on to say that, “You know, this is a relatively civilised, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.”

As a reporter who has covered wars and the human impact of it on refugees throughout the years,  I was shocked to hear that the lives of those in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and refugees in the Middle East are being devalued in this way. What makes refugees from the countries D’Agata stated any less civilised than those who are fleeing Ukraine?

Despite the fact that D’Agata’s comments have been called out, and he did issue a swift apology, the bias and racist elements when describing refugees did not stop at his comments. In fact, reporters from other media outlets said things as equally offensive.

In the Telegraph, for example, Daniel Hannan wrote, “They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone,” he wrote.  The comments send out a message that any refugee who may be from non-White backgrounds or who are from Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen and countless other countries are simply just “used” to conflict and war because it has been going on for years when, in reality, it is just as painful, just as hard.

Coverage of Ukraine Refugee crisis is 'racist' - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Coverage of Ukraine Refugee crisis is ‘racist’ – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

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It was even disappointing to witness an  Al Jazeera anchor airing his views on it saying, “These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East” and even an ITV News reporter stating that, “Now the unthinkable has happened to them, and this is not a developing, Third World nation, this is Europe”. The amount of anger and eye rolling I did, having listened to all these comments made me also think about how important it is to have diversity in newsrooms themselves, so that people will be able to bring in other perspectives and bring it home that these kind of statements can be extremely damaging.

It is not just certain media outlets who are perpetuating the idea that refugees coming from Europe are more important than other refugees who have suffered around the world  – prime ministers are drumming in their views, too.

The Bulgarian Prime Minister is one prime example, having stated that, Ukrainian refugees are “intelligent, they are educated … This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists.” The, lack of empathy for refugees facing conflict in other parts of the world is evident from his statement, and clearly shows how desensitised some people in authority are to global human suffering.

Read: UN slams double standards by West towards refugees

Putin has launched attacks in the past which have caused excruciating heartache to refugees from Syria, facing mass displacement, death and trauma but we did not see the level of media attention as we do now. Where is the empathy, the compassion and the media focus on countries such as Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq? The suffering of refugees from these countries is being played down and almost made to seem that their lives are not as important in comparison to the lives of those fleeing Ukraine. When the reality is that all victims of war, regardless where they are from, or what they look like, should be given equal importance.

The dehumanisation of people of colour, of those from countries that are not in the west, needs to stop. There are some media organisations which are doing a good job in fair and unbiased reporting of the refugee crisis. But, for those newsrooms which have perpetuated such offensive rhetoric, more needs to be done to improve for the future of building a united wider society, which values every single person as a human being.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.