Updated: Mar 13, 2022
There comes a point when the denial or abuse of basic human rights reaches such an appalling level that failing to speak out amounts to acquiescence. The cowardice of silence makes one a participant, in some way.
A cowardly attack on a maternity hospital in Mariupol yesterday, and other attacks on civilian targets, no doubt raises serious questions of crimes of war:
We might then tut-tut about the UK's slow response in the face of the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War and turn the page of our newspaper when we see the pleas of the Ukrainian ambassador to our Home Secretary to drop the red tape:
We are led to understand “security concerns” are what is causing this inhumane, insensitive, torturously and excruciatingly slow drip feed of concessions to connect family members to their loved ones in the UK. There is still no detail on the “community sponsorship” and we are over two weeks into the conflict.
There is so much that can be done VERY QUICKLY to vet people for security concerns if their identity and nationality can be confirmed. The Home Office can have this information at their fingertips and provided there is political will their efforts can be co-ordinated with those of Ukrainian authorities’ records. They have been doing this for years with other national authorities.
You do NOT need a passport, if you do not have one, to come to the UK. Please see our post here what can be done if you do not have a passport:
As a part of the drip feed of concessions, this afternoon SSHD has announced that Ukrainian nationals who have international passports may submit visa applications and provide biometrics once they arrive in the UK - with effect from Tuesday 15.3.22. It is unclear whether for now if this requires a modern passport with a biometric chip.
We can start by increasing staffing levels, put in place more VACs, and ensure that the machines that capture fingerprints, if what we are so concerned about is national security, actually work or that there are enough of them. We can end by waiving visas as the government of Ireland has done.
At the time of writing, Poland has accepted almost 1.3 million refugees whilst UK politicians talk up our “generosity” but place obstacles in the way of those fleeing to allow only 760 as at yesterday.
See BBC report of 9.3.22:
This is tantamount to inhuman and degrading treatment being meted out by us. It is hypocritical to make showy statements of generosity and then place enormous burdens on people fleeing a war zone.
We immigration lawyers would become participants by acquiescing in this abuse if we do not call it out for what it is, even if doing so turns us into “lefty activists” rather than lawyers exercising clinical analyses of legal issues.
And then, there is THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:
We cannot and should not stand by and permit Ukrainian border officials to inflict more harm on an exhausted people based on their colour.
If in times of peace we take a knee and claim Black Lives Matter but now in a time of crisis we turn our backs on the THOUSANDS, yes thousands, of people of colour stuck within Ukraine, forbidden to board trains or buses to reach the borders and told to walk if you are black or brown.
When they do finally reach the border if they are pushed back by the border officials on BOTH sides what does one do?
The Polish people and those of other neighbouring countries have shown the most enormous humanitarian and generous support to Ukraine nationals fleeing persecution. The Polish authorities have demonstrated superb efficiency in organising the evacuation of thousands of people at their borders.
Regrettably however, too many Ukrainian border guards are pushing back thousands of people of colour, who are now in no man’s land with no food, water or shelter and who are being denied entry to Poland. Priority, reportedly, is being given to Ukraine nationals and those who are white:
9.3.22 - The Independent report shows Ukraine's leaders "are aware" of the problem:
8.3.322 - CNN:
2.3.22 - The Guardian and The Telegraph:
Whatever offer there is to white Ukraine nationals should be extended to those of any colour or nationality who have family members in the UK but who have been residing within that territory. There are very few speaking up for them.
Twenty years ago in 2002 Ukraine acceded to the Refugee Convention. Poland did so back in 1991.
The Refugee Convention was designed to prevent push back through its principle of “non-refoulement”:
Article 33 PROHIBITION OF EXPULSION OR RETURN (“REFOULEMENT”)
1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country.
The elderly, the disabled, the babies, the girls, the women and young medical students of colour and all those people currently without food, water or shelter in freezing wintry conditions (it has been between -3 to -7 degrees in the last few days) at the Border between Ukraine and Poland are not a threat to the EU’s or to the UK’s national security.
They are not just “the responsibility” of the national governments of those non-Ukraine nationals. If those governments have no bargaining position to send arms, they may have less sway. How do they then negotiate with Ukrainian border officials who are denying the foreign nationals permission to leave, to reach a neighbouring country of safety? What do these people now starving and freezing at the Ukraine border or some underground bunker, do?
A genuine humanitarian programme will not discriminate on the basis of someone's skin colour.
Poland and other neighbouring EU countries of Ukraine must be urged to permit people of colour through.
Many are Commonwealth nationals. If that counts for anything, the UK government must look closely at this issue. The neighbouring countries of Ukraine must not be allowed to push back people into a war zone based on their nationality or the colour of their skin.
The UK should lead on this issue and draw attention to this elephant in the room by requiring Ukrainian border officials to permit all those who wish to leave a war zone to leave and to allow them safe passage through neighbouring countries.
Any offer being made to Ukraine nationals by the UK or the EU should equally be made available to the nationals of any other country where they were resident in Ukraine and who will now struggle to return home. It is not their war; it is not a war they asked for, anymore than it is the war of innocent civilians in Ukraine.
This issue becomes more acute as the bombing spreads ever more westward.
Bombs are indiscriminate.
Author: Nilmini Roelens