Unequal treatment of refugees is racism

In the last three weeks, more than three million people have fled the war in Ukraine. The general atmosphere in Finland and more broadly in Europe seems to be highly welcoming which is, of course, a good thing. In the light of recent history, this is problematic, however. 

We can all remember the wave of 1.3 million refugees who fled Syria and who were received in a completely opposite way. In general, people felt that Europe’s security was at risk, and our western society was on the brink of collapse. More recently, we can remember the brutal fences on the Polish border and the violent treatment of refugees fleeing Iraq and Afghanistan. 

We are able to help, as long as refugees are white 

The war in Ukraine has shown that we are ready to sacrifice our privileges, if the conditions are right. We have accepted the higher cost of living due to the war, the financial and material assistance sent to Ukraine and any refugees coming here under exceptional circumstances. At the same time, we are systematically dismantling our trade relations with Russia, even lucrative ones. 

The dignity of people from the Middle East is clearly considered to be lower than that of white Ukrainians.

In this light, it is clear to me that this unequal treatment is racism. The dignity of people from the Middle East is clearly considered to be lower than that of white Ukrainians. Justifications based on the gender distribution of refugees are excuses, as people are in danger for different reasons. 

The Prime Minister of Bulgaria openly pointed out that Ukrainian refugees are different from the previous ones. According to him, they are smart and educated Europeans. His comments involve problematic ideas that the previous refugees were not equally smart or educated, or otherwise fit for western society. These comments maintain the structures of white supremacy and are absolutely condemnable. 

There are no bad refugees 

Giving humanitarian aid cannot be based on any notion that everyone who is not white or part of western standards should be seen as an outsider and threat. This is racism and maintains colonial power structures. The only reason for giving help should be the need for assistance. 

It is time for reflection. Now that we have proven our ability to be open and generous and welcome those fleeing the war, can we apply the same policy to all others who come here in the future on the grounds of persecution, war or other conflicts? Do we have the courage to admit that race and religion have affected our attitudes before? 

Tomi Rantanen 
The author works as a communication officer at STTK. 

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