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Opinion: White Washed Wars

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Opinion: White Washed Wars

Why is assistance during conflict determined by race?

Your country is being bombed. Innocent civilians, children and women are being purposefully targeted. You pack a bag to flee the fight. You can see families frantically boarding the train, and you run to make it before it leaves. As you climb onto the train you feel someone grab you and drag you off. Why? Because you are black. This was the widely unreported reality facing many Black, Asian and ethnic minority refugees who were held at borders when attempting to flee the Ukrainian conflict. Only White people were allowed to board the train to freedom.

In February 2022, Russia began its illegal invasion into Ukraine. In the wake of the violence, an insidious double standard began to emerge that has been largely ignored by the UK government, global media institutions and the corporate world. Perhaps this is because it does not sit comfortably with the simplistic villain-victim narrative the rest of the world has so quickly bought into. The hypocrisy of these Western States is profound. The war has triggered swift condemnation from the West for Russia’s military actions, yet these are the same countries that illegally invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 with around 500,000 reported civilian deaths alone. The West has heavily sanctioned Russia for the invasion, but has paid over £7.1 billion in arms to Saudi. These laser-guided bombs, typhoon aircrafts and missiles have been used senselessly against innocent unarmed Yemenis. Like Russia, Saudi Arabia has illegally invaded another country, yet the West does not attempt to stop Middle Eastern wars; instead it fuels them.

The UK government has recently introduced a heavily criticised scheme to ship off innocent refugees to Rwanda, to live in potentially dangerous and inhumane conditions, as highlighted by The Guardian newspaper when they published recent evidence of Congolese refugees being shot dead by police during protests over conditions in a Rwandan camp in 2018. However the British government continues to invite Ukrainian refugees to the country and encourages the British public to take them in. The ex-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, praised Ukraine for its resistance against the Russian military branding them as “heroic”, however criticised Palestinian children in 2014 for defending themselves with rocks against armed Israeli soldiers. As much as the Ukrainians are in need and deserve this help, the way the British government responds to innocent people facing uninvited hostility give rise to a serious question: why are refugees without European descent treated differently?

On the 23rd of May 2022, Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin was jailed for life over war crimes he carried out during the Ukrainian conflict. This trial took place only three months after the invasion of Ukraine. The UK invaded Iraq nineteen years ago, and in 2020 the International Criminal Court told the BBC: "It is without dispute there is evidence war crimes were committed," yet no action has been taken have taken place, despite British soldiers openly admitting to carrying out or witnessing atrocities such as rape, murder and torture by UK forces on civilian Iraqis. The decision from the International Criminal Court to close its preliminary examination of war crimes in December 2020 reveals the systematic failures of the international justice system.

The depth of hypocrisy is particularly evident within the international football institution UEFA. They banned Russian players from representing their national or domestic league teams to show their solidarity for Ukraine. Premier League players wore armbands and held moments of silence to send prayers to those affected by the conflict. However, when Mesut Ozil tried to raise awareness for the profound oppression Uighur Muslims face in China, he was fined and suspended from play for sharing political views. Similarly, Celtic fans were banned from holding Palestinian flags at matches. Awareness for Ukraine is praised and accepted but the same awareness for other conflicts is criminalised.

The reason there is no equal outcry for other conflicts is because they do not fit into the Western media narrative. These inherently racist media outlets are feeding its readers a diet of white-washed morsels of information about the refugee crisis, leading the public to distorted opinions about refugees. This is the power that such institutions hold. David Sakvarelidze, a Ukrainian politician could not contain his anguish that it was people with “blue eyes and blonde hair” that were being bombed, parroting Hitler’s Nazi ideology of the superior Aryan race. These ideas and opinions have indoctrinated the public into tolerating and accepting the deaths of those without such features, by deeming their lives as less important, less deserved and less worthy. Where was the coverage and offers of help when hostility against Afghanis, Yemenis, Iraqis, and Syrians led to millions of refugees seeking a place of safety? Conflict in predominantly non-white countries does not seem to win the headlines or evoke long-term compassion within the British public as a whole.

For a country whose present success is due to the colonialism of the East and South, it often turns a blind eye to those in need of help. For a country that claims to take pride in its diversity, there is little attempt to mask its deep-rooted xenophobia and institutionalised racism.

I hope that one day everyone can board that train to freedom and safety, no matter the colour of their skin.

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