While an image of Ukraine has been painted as a monolith of only white refugees, Black and brown Ukrainians are also trying to flee for their lives. But it has not been as easy. Black and brown Ukrainians are facing explicit racism and obstacles at the border, and have reported being denied exit. Ukraine’s foreign minister acknowledged the racist treatment of Black refugees at the border and established a hotline to assist those who are trying to leave, further guarantees of protection are needed.
“Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on Ukraine has resulted in an ongoing war, senseless violence, and Ukrainians forced to seek refuge in other countries,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas in a statement. “In these extraordinary times, we will continue to offer our support and protection to Ukrainian nationals in the United States.”
The designation is good news for Ukrainians and immigration advocates who say conditions in the country are continuously deteriorating and unstable. Olesya Luraschi, who immigrated from Ukraine in 1993 when she was seven years old, still has family in a small village in Southwest Ukraine. Half of her family has already fled to nearby Poland, but the rest made the difficult decision to stay, scared of taking their one-year-old and four-year-old children on the hours-long, cross-country journey.
“A part of her doesn’t want to emigrate somewhere else because that would mean that she’s accepting that she’s going to be separated from her husband for a long time [who is fighting in the war],” Luraschi said.
But there is still not a pathway to resettlement in the U.S. Luraschi saw a growing desire from people on social media who wanted to house Ukrainian refugees and help them resettle. In an attempt to organize resettlement and help Ukrainians find accommodations, she started a Facebook group called “North America for Ukraine (U.S., Canada, and Mexico)” on March 4, which has already amassed nearly 2,000 members.
“There is a massive desire to welcome refugees,” Luraschi said. “But, at the same time, we don’t have the ability to do so. I created the group to bridge the gap between what the people want and what the current legislation is doing.”
According to a statement from a State Department spokesperson, the U.S. will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and overseas posts to determine whether Ukrainians who have fled to another country require resettlement to a third country because they are not safe in their current location.
“The United States will assess vulnerability as a central tenet of refugee admissions to address the urgent need for resettlement across all regions,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We also will not discriminate based on country of origin.”
The Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration supervises and funds an overseas network of Resettlement Support Centers operated by international and non-governmental organization partners to prepare applications for resettlement. According to the spokesperson, the U.S. is working to rebuild the program’s infrastructure, including by strengthening the refugee processing systems. The spokesperson did not say how exactly the processing systems would be improved.
Luraschi believes the outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees has partly been due to a societal desire to rally around an “underdog” story of Ukrainian defense against Russia.
“I think that for a lot of people these past two year[s], going through a pandemic [has] been a significant time of reflection,” Luraschi said. “Maybe it’s made us a little bit more empathetic as a world.”
Immigration advocates for Black and brown migrants say the same empathy and policies should be granted to refugees from other war-torn and violence-afflicted countries like Haiti and Cameroon. Haitians have been fleeing violence and political instability in their country after the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake in August and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. But the U.S. has responded with removal through the controversial Title 42, a policy that cites health mitigation in the midst of a pandemic as a reason to block asylum-seekers from entering the U.S.
According to Witness at the Border, from Sept. 19, 2021, through Jan. 2022, 152 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Air flights to Haiti returned about 16,300 migrants, and since Biden’s inauguration in 2021,189 flights have returned about 19,300 migrants. Haitians who have been present in the country since May 21, 2021, were designated TPS for 18 months, excluding the thousands who trekked through South America for months to cross the Del Rio border in September.
“The Haitians that we saw at Del Rio were also escaping violence,” Ronald Claude, the director of policy and advocacy for Black Alliance for Just Immigration, said. “They were worried for their lives. They are also deserving and in need of refuge and protection. [Ukrainians] need our support, and Black migrants at our own border also need that support as well.”
According to a Human Rights Watch report, about 80 asylum-seekers from Cameroon were abused while awaiting their asylum proceedings in detention and were then returned to harmful conditions in Cameroon. The humanitarian crisis in Cameroon has grown since late 2016 when violence by government forces and armed separatist groups caused mass displacement, as have an ongoing conflict with Boko Haram in the Far North region. The Biden administration has yet to make a decision on designating TPS for Cameroon.
Haddy Gassama, UndocuBlack’s policy and advocacy director, said the U.S. should first repeal Title 42 and allow people the opportunity to apply for asylum without detaining and expelling them back to dangerous conditions.
“The operative word is ‘welcomed,’ and the second word is ‘dignity,’” Gassama said. “It’s this idea of treating people who are asylum seekers or fleeing from danger as such, and not as anything less than that.”
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