African Union slams ‘racism’ in the wake of Ukraine war

By AGGREY MUTAMBO

The African Union on Monday condemned incidents of racial discrimination against Africans trying to flee the conflict in Ukraine, after Russia invaded the eastern European country.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, the Chairman of the African Union, and the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said they were “particularly disturbed” with reports that some African residents in Ukraine have been turned away at borders.

“Reports that Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach international law,” the two leaders said in a joint statement on Monday.

“In this regard, the Chairpersons urge all countries to respect international law and show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, which Russian President Vladimir Putin described as “a special military intervention”, many foreigners residing in Ukraine, including Africans, have been trying to leave the country, to escape the violence.

Reports of racism

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But reports emerged early on Friday that neighbouring countries such as Poland were demanding visas from foreigners, preventing them from crossing into the country.

It forced a number of African countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana and Rwanda to announce that they are in talks with various EU countries to grant temporary permits to their citizens to help them escape the war.

On Monday, the matter came up during a meeting on Ukraine at the UN Security Council, with the African members of the Council, commonly known as A3, denouncing what they termed “the mistreatment of African people, especially students, trying to flee Ukraine.”

The Council’s African members asked for equitable treatment and dignity for all victims of war without discrimination based on nationality or race. The A3 currently includes Kenya, Ghana and Gabon.

Earlier, at the UN General Assembly’s Emergency Session on Ukraine, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Martin Kimani, said African countries will not stop condemning incidents of racism even when they express solidarity with Ukraine.

“It has been deeply disturbing to observe the racialism that has characterised the expression of solidarity in parts of Europe,” he told the Assembly on Monday.

“We wholeheartedly condemn such racism against African people and people of African descent. We resist any view that expressing this concern is a distraction because the safety and dignity of African people will never be secondary to us.”

Last Friday, Polish authorities issued a statement permitting foreigners fleeing Ukraine to live on their territory for up to 15 days without visas or the need to present a Covid-19 certificate.

But on Monday, Ukrainian authorities were being blamed for discriminating against Africans and preventing them from leaving.

The AU had already condemned the Russian invasion as “dangerous” and asked that both sides halt hostilities for talks.

But the emerging racism, the organisation said, was likely to hurt Africans more.

On Monday, some Kenyan students told The EastAfrican they had not been allowed to cross into Poland, even though some of their European colleagues were allowed to leave Ukraine.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Monday announced help lines for those still stranded in Ukraine, asking that they log onto the page: https://help.unhcr.org/ to get help.

“The two Chairpersons recall that all people have the right to cross international borders during conflict, and as such, should enjoy the same rights to cross to safety from the conflict in Ukraine, notwithstanding their nationality or racial identity.”

For Africa, the feeling of racism has persisted, right from the Covid-19 pandemic when the continent lagged behind in vaccination and a number of countries had to endure blanket travel bans despite reporting fewer cases that the average number of infections in Europe.

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