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Why so bloody different?

By Terri Harris, BGP's Menstrual Sexual and Reproductive Health Manager.

Recently on Women’s Hour, Amber Rudd, former Home Secretary, said: 'Our approach to Ukrainian refugees should be wholly different. We've got war in Europe.'

Since 2014 - 24,351 people seeking refuge in the UK have drowned or gone missing at sea.

In the ten years since the Syrian conflict, the rate of refugees granted safety in the UK has steadily reduced by a rate of 40%.

From Iraq, where the UK laid the foundations for a refugee crisis, 12,844 refugees have been denied access to refuge in Britain.

The human fatalities, casualties, family separations and endless bodies drawn up on our shores but only now do we need a wholly different approach.

The racism hits me so hard I cannot ignore it.

As the daughter of a refugee, the sentiments of cockroaches, flock and ‘othering’ have always haunted me, with the lingering racism which lasts in those phrases. Now the racism is clearly defined:

White refugees are welcome!

Tweet/Video: BBC Women's Hour. Watch here.

I am troubled for my Ukrainian siblings, just as I was for every other refugee that attempted to lay their feet on our shores but it is hard to ignore the blatant allowances that are made for this particular group because of the colour of their skin.

This isn’t a dismissal of the absolute anguish those from Ukraine have felt, but rather a reflection on the institutional and systematic structures which underplay varying approaches to refugees.

Much has been said about the huge differences in the language and coverage used towards Ukrainian refugees and those refugees from the Middle East and Africa in the media - however, less has been said about the blatant systematic racism which lies at the heart of government, corporate and institutional package to refugees.

We ourselves at Bloody Good Period have felt the stark difference between people’s support during the Afghan crisis and the Ukrainian crisis. Since the invasion of Ukraine we have received multiple partnership offers to help those fleeing Ukraine access period products. This is a huge contrast to the response to the Afghan crisis, in which we were accosted as customers for products rather than provided with donations.

For us, these experiences have really emphasised that there is an inherent bias towards Black Reugees and Refugees of Colour, and that this underpins who society deems as vulnerable and worthy of support. These distinctions in our own work have only been further emphasised by the way in which Ukrainian refugees are being supported, or not supported, globally.

By those not being supported, I of course mean the Refugees of Colour, who were living in Ukraine prior to the invasion. Those from Nigeria, Somaliland, India and Nepal (the list goes on) who made Ukraine their home, who have been stranded, beaten and dismissed as they tried to flee to safety. There is evidence of Black Refugees and Refugees of Colour being beaten by Ukrainian, Polish and other bordering guards; being restricted from boarding trains and travelling across borders; and being held whilst white refugees fled ahead of them. All the while the international community sits in moderate silence.

This does not surprise me.

Not when the international community has continued to exhibit the levels of blatant racism which it has. Not when the international community has done the following.

Refugees wake after sleeping on blankets and cardboard on the ground on the Polish side of the Medyka crossing, on March 1 - Natalie Keyssar for TIME

The UK government has placed a visa outpost in Calais to ensure Ukrainian refugees can access asylum safely. This visa outpost lies in the same French town where the UK government funds French Police to burn the only tents and resources refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan and Eritrea own. This is the same French town in which the UK allowed refugees from across the globe to rot in a dysentery-filled camp so as not to “entice” other refugees to do the same. And, this is the same town from which 44 people have drowned in the last year because the same asylum allowance was not provided to them.

In Poland, the country opened its doors to its Ukrainian neighbours, adapting any and every bit of shelter to accommodate those fleeing war. Yet in 2021, when refugees attempted to cross its border, the police brutalised thoses fleeing war from outside of Europe, and left them trapped for weeks in the border zone, living in freezing swamps and forests. At least 13 people died crossing the border in Poland in the last year - yet this year Ukrainian refugees were welcomed with open arms.

The train company Eurostar publicly offered free and safe passage to refugees escaping war in Ukraine. Since 2014, the same company has watched as hundreds of people drowned in the sea. They have watched as more than 28,000 people, a year, have put their lives at risk in a rubber dinghy that would barely survive a Lazy River, and be strewn across the rapidly moving current of the Channel Sea. They have watched, with the ability to provide safe passage, and never offered.

The list could go on, but rather than ask why - this war, this invasion, this need for refuge - is different we have to confront the reality…

Racism. At an international and systematic level.

Once we confront that we can look to support all refugees - and really stand behind the phrase: “Refugees welcome here”.

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