Refugees from Ukraine and the logic of asylum in the EU

15 March, 2022

A group of refugees from Western Ukraine enters the European Union.
A group of refugees from Western Ukraine enters the European Union.

The press welcomes the “radical change” brought about by the invasion of Ukraine in the treatment of refugees by the European Union. Even the most xenophobic governments are giving refugee status and facilities of all kinds. But has anything more than outward appearances really changed?

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Has the EU modified its asylum policy in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine?

Ukrainian defensist demonstration in Madrid. At the head, of course, horizontal red-black philo-Nazi flags.
Ukrainian defensist demonstration in Madrid. At the head, of course, horizontal red-black philo-Nazi flags.

The invasion of Ukraine opened the spigot. The European media, with little or no nuance, became an overwhelming and obscene war propaganda machine.

All the ploys were at work: dehumanization of the “Russian enemy” to the point of not reporting on the anti-war movement in Russia and its supression, lest we see the Russians as something other than a mere killable extension of Putin; invisibilization of the warmongering trajectory of the Zelensky government and its military threats; whitewashing of neo-Nazi battalions in the Ukrainian army who meanwhile flaunted swastikas and war crimes on their Telegram channels; conversion of the “no to war” into a “no to Putin’s war” by dressing up patriotic demonstrations plagued by national and red-black flags with slogans crying out for war as “anti-war”. .. Even the famous trade solidarity was left aside when a Spanish journalist was accused of being a Russian spy.

But where the warmongering orgy has elevated “fake news” to the heights of fantasy literature has been on the refugee issue. The editorials of absolutely all the major European media congratulated themselves because as soon as the conflict started all the quarrels and reservations of the European states about refugee allocations were dissipated.

Trips to “pick up refugees” by the nationalist petty bourgeoisie, from hunters and cab owners close to Vox to the Catalan pro-independence ANC, were immediately hailed as “solidarity” and the usual endless police and bureaucratic obstacles were removed, while regional and national governments competed to offer better conditions to the new arrivals.

How could we not congratulate ourselves that the Czech Republic or Poland went from receiving refugees with mistreatment and extreme violence to automatically giving them residence, work permits and money? How could we not celebrate the fact that the Spanish government has finally abandoned the internment centers and automatically granted refugee status to those who arrive?

Not all refugees are the same

Ukrainian police are not letting black migrants and students board trains out of Kiev.
Ukrainian police are not letting black migrants and students board trains out of Kiev.

Yet something suspicious was going on from the very first moment.

To begin with, Ukrainian defectors and those fleeing to Russia and Belarus escaping the love of ethnic cleansing by Ukrainian nationalist battalions, more than a quarter of a million, were blurred and excluded even from the maps, albeit counted in the total.

Secondly, the first reports soon appeared about Poland’s refusal to take in African students fleeing the war in Ukraine. Many of them complained of mistreatment, and even those who arrived in Germany were immediately segregated in separate wagons without explanation. Worse still, a fairly large group of them were not allowed to leave the country by the Ukrainian army. In impromptu demonstrations they denounced that they were being used as “human shields”.

The differential treatment is so scandalous that even the New York Times, in the midst of its warmongering efforts, today devoted an extensive article to an inevitable comparison, while unintentionally underlining the class differences between some refugees and others.

On the day war broke out in Ukraine, Albagir, a 22-year-old Sudanese refugee, lay on the frozen forest floor at the entrance to Poland, trying to stay alive.

Drones sent by the Polish border patrol were searching for her. So were helicopters. It was nighttime, freezing temperatures and snow everywhere. Albagir, a pre-med student, and a small group of African refugees were trying to sneak into Poland with the last crumpled dates in their pockets. “We were losing hope,” she said.

That same night in a small town near Odessa, Katya Maslova, 21, grabbed a suitcase and her tablet, which she uses for her animation work, and jumped with her family into a burgundy Toyota Rav 4. They raced off, in four cars, a convoy of eight adults and five children, part of the frantic exodus of people trying to escape war-torn Ukraine. […]

Over the next two weeks, what would happen to these two refugee women crossing into the same country at the same time, both about the same age, could not be more starkly different. Albagir was punched in the face, received racial slurs and left in the hands of a border guard who, Albagir said, brutally beat her and seemed to enjoy doing so. Katya wakes up every day with a full refrigerator and fresh bread on the table, thanks to a man she calls a saint.

Two refugees, both on the Polish border, two worlds apart. New York Times, today

Not that anyone seems to care much either. On the contrary, in France the right wing and the far right were protesting in anticipation that some “non-European” would “sneak in” among the refugees.

And certainly nothing is changing at the southern border or anywhere else in the EU. On the same day, March 3, 2,000 people, most of them refugees fleeing from the disasters caused by the extension of the Franco-European war in the Sahel, left their hands and arms in the barbed wire that the Spanish government placed on the fence of Melilla. In France, the contrast between the reception centers for Ukrainians and the African, Syrian and Afghan refugees abandoned to their fate speaks for itself.

The reality of asylum law in the EU

Frontex members threaten and fire on Syrian refugees on Greek shores.
Greek border police beat a Syrian woman on a boat with a truncheon while another uniformed officer wields a pistol

The question we should be asking is whether asylum rules or refugee and migration policies in the EU have changed; whether anything has been done about Frontex’ crimes or whether refugee camps are minimally more humane.

There is no indication of this. On February 2nd of this year, Denmark’s social democratic government congratulated itself on not having “a single asylum seeker on Danish soil”. The idea of the Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, is still going ahead: to negotiate with the authoritarian government of Rwanda, which knows a lot about it, the opening of concentration camps where the refugees would wait, imprisoned indefinitely, for the resolution of their cases. To top it all off, the Danish government declared Syria, against all evidence, as a “safe country” and started sending back refugees.

Read also: Refugees: new policies show EU's lies and hypocrisies, 17/7/2021

In Poland and Lithuania, after the grotesque and cruel spectacle of November, where the most basic humanitarian issues were put aside by an EU which cynically declared itself in full victim of a “hybrid war”, they did not seem to be satisfied with having more walls and water cannons on account of European funds.

The strategic response to the influx of refugees was the commitment of the three Baltic republics to consider a military attack and to rush to war “to Poland’s aid” if Belarus again allowed the influx of refugees. And on the part of the EU to tighten some asylum rules that, after all, not even Frontex was complying with anymore.

Read also: Refugee crisis in Lithuania and Poland: 4 basic questions about a new episode of barbarism against the weakest, 9/11/2021

The barbarism of European policy and its double standards, evident even to the U.S. press during that crisis, was further exposed in the following months when riots broke out – and were brutally suppressed – in the infamous refugee holding centers in Poland. Since then, there has been no end to NGO reports of abuses by Polish police forces in the detention centers.

In addition, videos were released showing Frontex handing over African refugees to border guards – repeatedly denounced as being in the pay of the slavers in Tripoli – while the death toll on the crossing to Europe reached a new peak.

All the same, not the slightest amendment is to be expected. Just a few weeks ago, on February 17, Spiegel published a video showing Frontex officials throwing refugees into the water and killing them on their way to Greece. It is not the first time and no longer even a cause for scandal.

The common element: classism as an asylum policy.

However, remaining in the collection of crimes and inhumanities of the European asylum and migration policy would make us lose the perspective of the strategy and the driving forces behind it.

An illustrative example. While Cyprus was opening new refugee camps for Syrians who had fled first the war and later the most brutal exploitation in Turkey, the 12,000 Lebanese arriving on the island, mostly members of the petty bourgeoisie with a bank account in the country, without being victims of any political persecution, were spared from any detention. Syrians and Africans continue to rot in detention centers with deplorable conditions. The Lebanese have been recognized as refugees in a record time and the press congratulates itself on the success of their business.

No, it is not the racist gaze which dictates European policy. The difference between a Lebanese shopkeeper and a Syrian worker is not “racial”. The differential treatment that the Brussels guidelines give to a graphic designer from Lviv and a Sudanese student doing precarious jobs in Kiev is not born of the difference in skin color, whatever the sadistic Polish policeman may think. It is the most furious classism, as we saw after the fall of Kabul, which modulates the treatment a refugee can expect to receive.

Asylum is, in an increasingly open way, a class privilege which becomes more restrictive the less integrated the country of origin is in the life of the European ruling classes – that is to say, in their investment portfolio. If the Ukrainian or Lebanese petty bourgeoisie can expect to receive refuge without problems, only the more highly internationalized ruling class of Afghanistan or Syria can expect the same.

A significant fact: although there are no official statistics, we can affirm, based both on the experience of the reception centers we know first hand, and on media coverage, that most of the refugees arriving, at least in Western Europe, belong to the Western Ukrainian petty bourgeoisie. There is nothing in common between their demands and those of a “normal” refugee. The staunchest opponents of open borders have nothing to worry about.

Today the borders are being torn down so that the Ukrainian ultranationalist petty bourgeoisie, which so longed to be able to go to war with Russia, can enjoy the solidarity of cab drivers, businessmen and voxite and independentist hunters. But at the end of this horror, for the workers, wherever they are, there will remain only the barbed wire and the outrages of Frontex, materialization of what the solidarity between the xenophobic petty bourgeoisie and the ruling classes keeps for all of us.

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