As the European Union welcomes tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war with open arms, thousands of non-EU nationals living in Ukraine are apparently having a hard time leaving the country. Migration experts, activists and refugee aid groups are calling for equal treatment of members of any nationality trying to escape.
"These are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people."
These words by Bulgarian President Rumen Radev about Ukrainian refugees, quoted by the Associated Press, illustrate a discrepancy between the treatment of Ukrainian migrants and the thousands of African, Arab, Indian and other migrant groups trying to flee Ukraine, too.
Radev is not the only European far-right, anti-migration leader who changed their tone considerably since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. "We're letting everyone in," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said -- just two months after he uttered "we aren't going to let anyone in."
Statements like these have been accompanied by accusations of discrimination against non-Ukrainians at the hand of mostly Ukrainian authorities. Almost since the beginning of Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine, Twitter has been rife with pictures and videos allegedly showing harassment at train stations and border checkpoints.
The videos as well as the statements by politicians, journalists and others sparked condemnation on social media by migration experts, activists and refugee aid groups for revealing a double standard when it comes to the treatment of different refugee groups.
On Twitter, German politician Aminata Toure asked Germany's federal government to also advocate for "Black people and other minorities trying to flee the war."
Refugee aid organization Pro Asyl, meanwhile, said that open escape routes out of Ukraine must also apply to migrants in Ukraine as well as Syrians and other transit refugees who ended up in Ukraine fleeing other conflicts.
Indian students stranded
One immigrant group apparently disadvantaged by the alleged preferential treatment of Ukrainian and EU nationals are students from India.
British broadcaster BBC reported on Monday (February 28) that many of them stuck in Ukraine's big cities and at the border "are frantically sending messages asking their government to evacuate them."
According to the Times of India, "hundreds" of students are trapped at the borders with Poland and Hungary "without food, shelter and water as Ukrainian border guards were not allowing them through check points."
One of the videos circulating on Twitter is allegedly showing an Ukrainian border guard kicking an Indian student pulling a suitcase.
Like much other user-generated content, it's hard to provide proper context, let alone verify whether the man was of Indian origin.
India's embassy in Kiev, meanwhile, has been addressing Indian citizens in Ukraine regularly via Twitter, urging them to stay "patient and safe." According to the BBC, large number of students from India go to eastern Europe, including Ukraine, to study medicine.
Another group of immigrants whose members have voiced frustration and anger over their treatment by Ukrainian border guards are people from African countries. On Twitter, videos with the hashtag #AfricansinUkraine allegedly show people from Africa being abandoned at train and bus stations or being held back from boarding trains out of Ukraine in favor of Ukrainian nationals.
According to a BBC journalist, a Nigerian medical student told her she was waiting seven hours at the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing before being allowed into Poland. "Border guards are stopping black people and sending them to the back of the queue, saying they have to let 'Ukrainians' through first," the journalist said on Twitter.
A Twitter user later confirmed the journalist's statement, saying her experience was similar to that of the Nigerian student. "We finally made it across and we're told accommodation at the hotel is only for Ukrainians. No sleep or food in 3 days, walked 20+ km. Why does nationality determine who rests," she tweeted.
There were also reports that people from Africa who lived in Ukraine and wanted to enter Poland were harassed or turned away at the border by Polish border guards, DW reported. A South African Foreign Ministry official tweeted that South African students were turned away at the Ukraine-Poland border.
The Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland denied there was a double standard, saying on Twitter that "refugees fleeing war-stricken Ukraine are entering Poland regardless of their nationality."
Promise for equal treatment, possibility to claim asylum
In Brussels, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson made it clear that the border was also open to people from third countries who lived in Ukraine and wanted to travel on to their home countries. "Those people must be helped. Moreover, those in need of protection in the EU can also apply for asylum," she was quoted by DW as saying.
The welcoming words and support by EU institutions and member states toward Ukrainian refugees are a stark contrast to the bloc's otherwise tough -- and at times inhumane -- migration and asylum policies in recent years.
Just last week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees slammed not only Greece but all European governments, saying the "deplorable" and illegal acts towards asylum seekers were being "normalized."