As hundreds of thousands of people escape Ukraine amid Russia’s attack on its soil, Africans fleeing the violence have reported facing racist, disparate treatment compared to white Ukrainians.
On Monday, the Nigerian government called out the “unfortunate reports” of Ukrainian police “refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains” headed toward Ukraine’s border with Poland.
With around 4,000 Nigerians, mostly students, “stranded” in Ukraine, the Nigerian government said, there have been reports of Polish officials refusing Africans entry into Poland.
“It is paramount that everyone is treated with dignity and without favour,” Nigeria’s presidential office and residence said in a statement on Twitter. “All who flee a conflict situation have the same right to safe passage under UN Convention and the colour of their passport or their skin should make no difference.”
South Africa’s head of public diplomacy echoed similar concerns that South African students and other Africans “have been badly treated” at Ukraine’s border with Poland.
The South African foreign office official shared a video of a woman at a Ukrainian border town saying Africans waiting to cross were being “pushed,” “shoved” and “denied access,” forced to wait in the cold as Ukrainians got “special treatment.”
One Nigerian man, identified only as Isaac, told BBC News that Africans were being “chased back” and hit by police “armed with sticks,” and said border officials had told them they were “not tending to Africans.” Another Nigerian, Osemen, told the news outlet that only Ukrainians were being permitted to board a train in Lviv to the border with Poland.
A group of Congolese students told Canada’s CTV News that Africans were being “put aside” until border guards processed Ukrainians, and were told that “Ukrainians go first.”
Responding to the reports of disparate treatment, the Polish embassy in Nigeria said in a statement Saturday that “all nationals are given equal treatment and none are discriminated against,” adding that Nigerians were “among those” who’d been able to cross into Poland “in recent days.” The Polish government in Nigeria added that the situation at the border is “becoming increasingly challenging” and that it takes “longer with each passing day” to get through.
Tens of thousands of African students have been studying in Ukraine, according to Reuters.
Over 500,000 people have fled the country since Russia attacked last week, the United Nations said.
The U.S. civil rights group the NAACP released a statement Monday condemning the mistreatment of Black people seeking to flee Ukraine, saying: “As history has taught us, whenever there is a crisis, Black and brown communities will feel the effects first and be provided with aid last.”
“Black families, immigrants… are not only facing challenges to evacuate a deadly warzone but are being pushed from trains and beaten by police officers,” the NAACP said. “These callous acts are atrocious and reprehensible… Every individual must be treated with dignity and humanity.”