Social media and the ‘good’ refugee

The digital age has provided greater access to witness the ongoing impacts of imperialism, white supremacy and capitalism globally

All eyes are on Ukraine since the Russian Government launched its invasion in late February. In the same ways television brought the Vietnam War to American living rooms, so too has social media brought the conflict directly to our phones, laptops and computers. Our social media feeds are flooded with stories of  Ukrainians choosing to remain and fight for their country  , as well as around the clock coverage of the plight of those fleeing the conflict. 

We are facing yet another refugee crisis in the midst of ongoing refugee crises — the people of Ukraine are rushing to borders that have already barred Afghan, Syrian and other refugees from passing. While the realities of these groups are similar, politicians and news media are framing the Ukrainian refugee crisis  much differently compared to past refugee crises involving the Afghan or Syrian people. Indeed, the global outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees carries a certain level of judgment and comparison to previous refugees from other countries. Look no further than some of the things said on major western news networks:

“It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed” – Ukraine’s Former Deputy Chief Prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze on BBC News.

“This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan…This is a relatively civilized, relatively European city” – CBS foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata.

“What’s compelling is looking at them, the way they are dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from the Middle East…or North Africa. They look like any European family that you’d live next door to.” – Al Jazeera English anchor Peter Dobbie

 “It’s an important question. We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing…We’re talking about Europeans.” – BFM TV (France)

“The unthinkable has happened…This is not a developing, third world nation; this is Europe!” – ITV (UK)

In these cases, there is a clear example of what a “good” refugee is. Meanwhile, anyone a shade too dark aren’t seen as refugees, but parasites and invaders. They come from third-world countries; “uncivilized” cultures. They are expected to face violence and war. Of course, that ignores the historical records of the role that western colonial powers played in bringing the conflicts to those areas. The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) put out a statement calling out these comparisons

“AMEJA stands in full solidarity with all civilians under military assault in any part of the world, and we deplore the difference in news coverage of people in one country versus another. Not only can such coverage decontextualize conflicts, but it contributes to the erasure of populations around the world who experience violent occupation and aggression.”

Stereotypes and lack of historical knowledge of transnational relationships also highlighted the presence of Black and racialised people in Ukraine. Videos and stories shared on social media show African, Black and racialised residents and students in Ukraine being removed from buses and denied entry at the Polish border. 

It is deeply troubling that in times of war, race is a determining factor in deciding whose life is worth fighting for. Just follow the #AfricansinUkraine hashtag on Twitter and you’ll see Black people actively being denied help. Without social media, would we have even known about this, or would it end up being just another dark chapter in our history books that’s glossed over.

Understand that highlighting the hypocrisies around the response to Ukraine is not us saying that Ukraine doesn’t deserve our support during this time. The Ukrainians absolutely deserve our support, and in that same breath, we extend that sentiment to all peoples, regardless of background, who are also dealing with violent occupations.

~The insideWaterloo Team

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