The Ukrainian refugee crisis is not the time to judge others for past mistakes


Ukrainian families are now huddled in bomb shelters and digging trenches to fight Vladimir Putin’s murderous regime. Their fight is for life and death; there is no time for debates about political correctness.

No, these are concerns for the outside world that sits, watches, judges and tweets about a war that is not on its doorstep.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues with how Western societies, the media, and governments view (and refuse to receive) non-white refugees from countries and regions like Palestine, Syria , Afghanistan, Libya, Kurdistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Honduras. , Haiti, Congo, Guinea Bissau and Mexico.

Under international law, no group has more rights than another in its struggle for self-determination.

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And every time a journalist refers to a white refugee as “civilized”, they should be called out for it – it’s racist nonsense, and we should know better and hold public figures more accountable for backward, cruel and dangerous talk.

It is this kind of language that has helped fuel the ethnic and religious hatred that has driven Balkan War in the 1990s.

Broad strokes are unnecessary at best

We also should know better than to paint in broad strokes how Ukrainian refugees are welcomed by the world.

Ukraine, like any other conflict, does not take place in a vacuum. The complex historical and cultural factors deserve attention and cannot be easily overlooked. People refuse refugees for all sorts of reasons (good and bad) – even when they look like “them”.

My USA TODAY colleague, Thuan Elston, fled Vietnam with her family in 1975, shortly before the fall of Saigon. She wrote in a 2015 column on the Syrian refugee crisis: “Just as some European nations refuse today’s refugees and migrants, not all neighbors in vietnam were welcoming. Malaysia and Thailand frequently pushed back the boats full of desperate refugees from their ribs, sometimes after first giving them food and gasoline.”

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In an attempt to be inclusive, those of us on the political left sometimes lump all refugees together, as if the circumstances were the same. We also demand that the same rules apply regardless of the nature of the conflict – or the geographic and demographic factors at play in specific cases.

This week, progressives criticized european nations to supposedly be more welcoming to Ukrainian refugees than they have been to migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

But you cannot draw a straight line from one conflict to another. Kyiv is less than a day’s drive from Berlin. Kabul, Afghanistan is nearly 3,000 miles away.

One would expect, simply because of their proximity, that European Union countries like Poland and Germany would respond more quickly to a refugee crisis so close to their borders.

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In situations of oppression – whether it’s Ukraine, Afghanistan or any other country – we need action, not just arguments. And welcoming refugees, any refugee, is certainly action. As Slavoj Zizek says in his book, “messy paradise,“In these times ‘honest people are not the enemy’.

Last week I was in contact with several people in Ukraine, including a man who said he would die protect children with cancer as their city is bombed. I met a father of four childrenauthor and filmmaker, who left his family to fight for his country.

We must stay united

It is time to question the policies and actions of the international community in response to the Russian attack on the sovereign nation of Ukraine. But my biggest concern now is for the people in the bomb shelters hoping to make it through the night.

My priority now is the Russians who, at the risk of their lives, protest against the terrifying and illegal aggression of the Kremlin.

How do we save lives? How to stop the suffering?

This is how I approach any violation of human rights or any war crime, whether it is a illegal bombings in Gaza, Minnesota white supremacists or human rights violations against asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.

In the media, as in government, we must focus on the children who lose their fathers in a senseless war. The time will come for truth and inquiry commissions. There will come a time for justice in response to systemic human rights violations. But for now, we must remain united with Ukraine and the Russian resistance to Putin.

More importantly, we need to stick together.

Carli Pierson is a lawyer, former professor of human rights, writer and member of USA TODAY’s Editorial Committee. You can follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiersonEsq


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