Last week Senegal abstained on a UN Security Council vote to end immediately Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
The decision came despite intense pressure from its former colonial power, France, who wanted the West African nation to back it up and vote in favour of a resolution demanding Russia halt its use of force and withdraw from Ukraine.
Several Senegalese have welcomed their government’s position. First, it was a rebuke at France’s efforts to reassert control in the region, which have been ongoing and reached their peak in 2014 with the launch of Operation Barkhane in the Sahel.
Second, their support for the UN vote was a reaction against the Ukrainian border guards’ racial profiling of Africans attempting to leave the country.
Last week, as thousands attempted to escape the fighting in Ukraine, horror stories from African students at the frontier tell how they were pushed aside so Ukrainians would be given priority and had to wait for days to cross with no food or blankets.
One young woman from Sierra Leone recalls how Ukrainian border guards boarded the bus she was travelling on and asked herself and the other black passengers to get off.
One day after the UN vote Senegal’s foreign ministry summoned the Ukrainian ambassador after the embassy wrote a Facebook post calling on Senegalese citizens to enlist in the fight against Russia, which provoked a further outcry. So black people are good enough to fight and die in the war, but not to leave the country on the same terms as everybody else.
This conflict has underscored the global racial divide clearly. On 24 February, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, reports painted Polish border guards out to be heroes welcoming Ukrainian refugees in.
But not so long ago these same Polish border guards were pushing groups of mainly Middle Eastern refugees back across the Belarusian border, with at least 19 freezing to death. To make sure no one else comes, Warsaw has started building a $400 million wall along the border with Belarus.
Towards the end of February, former Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced that “Italy has a duty to open the doors to those who run away,” referring to the Ukrainians who are fleeing the country as Russian attacks on civilians intensify.
But last year Salvini went on trial in Sicily after preventing an Italian coast guard boat carrying over 100 refugees, some from Africa, from docking in Lampedusa for three weeks. “I will not give any permission for them to disembark until Europe commits to accept all the immigrants on board,” Salvini said at the time.
Over the weekend, Angelina Jolie arrived in Yemen to liken the humanitarian crisis there to the devastation in Ukraine and assure refugees in the country that she continued to support them.
“This week a million people were forced to flee the horrific war in Ukraine,” said the Hollywood actress. “If we learn anything from this shocking situation, it is that we cannot be selective about who deserves support and whose rights we defend. Everyone deserves the same compassion.”
Afghans, Eritreans, Iraqis, Iranians and thousands of other refugees still making the journey to safety hope like the Yemenis that their stories are not lost amidst the total focus on Ukraine. Meanwhile in Syria, Syrians have asked where they would be today with only a tenth of the weapons Europe sent to Ukraine within days of the start of the conflict when they received little more than statements of solidarity for six months.
Pointing out Western double standards should not take away from compassion and solidarity with the people of Ukraine as bombs hit schools, hospitals and humanitarian corridors. But now is the chance for an urgent debate on Western double standards in a world that cannot continue as it is.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.