- The US and the EU are offering temporary immigration protections to those fleeing the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
- Immigration rights advocates say that Black and brown asylum seekers are still waiting for their own protections.
- Advocacy groups urge government officials to offer the same temporary immigration status to other refugees.
The United States and the European Union both announced life-saving temporary immigration status to Ukrainian nationals seeking refuge from the ongoing Russian invasion.
But while these designations were instituted within a matter of days, immigration rights advocates say that refugees from majority Black and brown countries — such as Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan — are still waiting for their own protections.
“For immigrants rights advocates, how we’re seeing the treatment of Ukrainian refugees play out is textbook for how all asylum seekers should be treated,” Haddy Gassama, national director of policy and advocacy at UndocuBlack Network, told Insider.
“We’re not discounting, or in any way speaking negatively about how Ukrainian migrants or refugees are being treated, it’s just that we want that same level of kindness to be replicated and provided to all folks who are fleeing dangerous conditions,” Gassama added.
Created in 1990, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) provides asylum seekers from countries suffering conflict or disaster the safety to stay in the US without fear of deportation. TPS designations usually last for between 6 to 18 months at a time. The EU has their own Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), first instituted in 2001, which is usually in effect for a year.
On February 24, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, intensifying a war between the two nations that began in 2014. Since then, the UN reports that more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country, the majority crossing the border into Poland.
While it took the US and EU a matter of days to extend legal status in the form of TPS and TPD to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Black immigrant advocates told Insider this process can usually take months, or even years.
Asylum seekers from Cameroon, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have long asked for the same protections from the conflicts currently facing their home countries.
However, temporary protections by the US and the EU have yet to be extended to foreign nationals of those countries. Those refugees that currently reside in the US and the EU face constant threat of deportation.
“It’s very clear that anti-Blackness exists in these systems. These systems are built on white supremacy. As a result, Black migrants always carry the heaviest burden of the cruelty of these systems,” said Gassama.
The US and EU granted TPS status to Ukrainians less than two weeks after Russia invaded
In most cases, TPS is not granted without a concerted campaign led by members of immigration advocacy groups, which includes petitions, letters to lawmakers, and calls for direct action from government officials. In some cases, it can take years before the groundswell of pressure reaches those in the halls of DC, Gassama said. In 2021, Venezuelan nationals were granted TPS status in the US only after years of advocacy from immigration rights groups. In the case of Ukrainians, no campaign was launched, advocates told Insider.
This is unprecedented, Black immigrant groups told Insider.
“For us to do this work day in and day out, to see a designation happen in a matter of days — not weeks, not months, not years — it’s welcome news because of the situation, but it also proves that these decisions can be made in a matter of days,” Gassama said. “And that there is no difference in the armed conflict happening in Ukraine than the multiple armed conflicts happening in Cameroon.”
Non-white refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have also faced heightened violence. In March, far-right nationalists in Poland attacked African and South Asian refugees who were arriving at the border.
“Anti-Blackness is global. Racism and xenophobia is global, and it’s endemic in all immigration enforcement systems,” Gassama said. “Whether it’s here in the States or in Europe or other parts of the world.”
Black refugees are fleeing war and political upheaval, advocates say
Countries in the global south, like Cameroon, Sudan, and Ethiopia have seen years of political instability and armed conflict. The ongoing Cameroonian Civil War has displaced over 700,000 people alone.
A Human Rights Watch report released last month revealed that the US, between 2019 and 2020, deported dozens of Cameroonians back to Cameroon, where they were raped, imprisoned, and faced other forms of persecution.
The report also found that US authorities subjected Cameroonian refugees to human rights violations in US immigration detention facilities, such as physical abuse by ICE agents and solitary confinement. The report states that US authorities also failed to adjudicate many of the refugees’ cases fairly while allowing their documents to be confiscated — a breach of international law.
“The people that were deported were not only sent back to harm but they were being mistreated by the administration here,” Daniel Tso, bail fund coordinator at Cameroon Advocacy Network, told Insider. “Advocacy for human rights should be universal.”
“These are not the refugees we are used to”
In February, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told reporters that Ukrainian refugees “are intelligent and educated people” and aren’t like “the refugees we are used to … these people are Europeans.”
A few days later, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, urged Europe to welcome Ukrainian refugees, contrasting them to Muslim refugees whom he described as trying to “colonize” the country.
“Anyone can tell the difference between [Ukrainian refugees] and the invasion of young military-aged men of Muslim origin who have assaulted European borders in an attempt to destabilize and colonize it,” he said.
These comments from European politicians only fuel other racist tropes in the media that dehumanize Black and brown refugees, Abraham Paulos, Black Alliance for Just Immigration deputy director, told Insider.
“I think one of the things I hope the situation does is that it pushes the conversation saying that we’re going to lift all of these excuses that Black people have been hearing crossing the Mediterranean [Sea], crossing central America; all of these excuses just really turn into ashes,” said Paulos.
Black immigration advocacy organizations plan to use the US and EU’s swift response to Ukraine to encourage more protections for all refugees.
“We understand these decisions can happen in a matter of days. We understand that the only difference between the conflict happening in Cameroon and the conflict in Ukraine, to be quite frank is the skin color of the folks who are being impacted and our ask of the Biden administration that holds out to us that racial equity is something of importance to them is that act on those words,” Gassama said.