Iranian Refugees in Germany 'Kicked Out of Accommodation' to Make Way for Ukrainians

May 13, 2022
Aida Ghajar
4 min read
Close to five million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia invaded on February 24
Close to five million Ukrainians have fled their country since Russia invaded on February 24
Non-Ukrainian refugees in France and Germany report having been sidelined by refugee agencies since then
Non-Ukrainian refugees in France and Germany report having been sidelined by refugee agencies since then

Last year, according to figures published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of people recorded as being displaced from their homes around the world was the highest in a decade: 84 million. Of these, 26.6m had fled their home country while the rest were displaced within its borders.

This, of course, was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The latest figures show close to five million Ukrainians have left the country and more than eight million are internally displaced.

As soon as the first wave of terrified Ukrainian citizens, mostly women and children, arrived at the gates neighbouring countries after February 24, the stories of discrimination on the border began. All refugees are equally deserving of support and humane treatment. But now would-be asylum seekers of color, and non-Ukrainian nationals, reported being sidelined through no fault of their own.

The stories, however, get worse from there.

“We were in heim [“home”, the word used for asylum seeker accommodation in Germany], when suddenly they evacuated the building, saying they didn’t have enough space for the Ukrainian refugees. What we were to do? For a while we lived on the streets, then decided to go to Britain.”

The speaker is 31 and from Iran, one of many to quit his country of birth after the November 2019 protests. He applied for asylum in Germany, but the processing was delayed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine – then rejected without cause.

“They did this even though had documentary proof of my arrest and my participation in the protests,” he said. “In the meantime we were transferred from a refugee camp to heim. Then we suddenly received notification that they were throwing us all out and going to put Ukrainian refugees there.”


“Don’t We Come From a War Zone Too?”

Racism and racial bias on the part of border guards – and parts of the media too – were apparent from the outset of the conflict. Of why Ukrainians were receiving such a warm reception in Europe compared to Middle Eastern asylum seekers, one reporter told CBS News: “To put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighboring Ukraine… These are Christians, they are white, they're, um, very similar to the people that live in Poland.”

A young Afghan who left after the Taliban returned to power last summer told IranWire about a dispiriting encounter he had had after arriving in France two weeks ago. “We were sitting on the train when this Ukrainian who was there with his family suddenly started banging on the window with a bottle. The police came, respectfully calmed him down, and ushered him and his family to another compartment. If it had been us, they would have just beaten us up.”

He added bitterly: “The war in Afghanistan started 50 years ago. Aren’t we human beings too? Don’t we come from a war zone too? Good that there’s a war in Europe now so they’ll understand what we’ve been going through all these years.”

Another Iranian man who camps out on the same street breaks in: “They give them whatever they want, very quickly. They don’t even charge them for dental work. We don’t get insurance and we don’t get priority.”


A Moral Tussle in Every Western Country

Media coverage indicates European countries are also acting unprecedentedly quickly to absorb and integrate Ukrainian arrivals into host communities. The director of an academy in southern France recently told Euronews: “The goal is not only to teach them [Ukrainian children and teenagers] French but also to give them their social life back, to let them live out their adolescent live.”

An Iranian employee of the French domestic refugee agency, who asked not to be named, told IranWire: “Human rights are not respected indiscriminately. The Ukrainians have escaped from a war, and deserve every resource they receive. But these resources must be offered to all refugees, regardless of their race and country of origin.

“Some have fled conflict, some tyranny, some exploitation, and have come to western Europe in search of peace and security. Why should they be treated differently?”

In France, they added, many bureaucratic procedures including processing asylum requests have been disrupted by Russian invasion of Ukraine. And a refugee rights activist in the Netherlands says the same is happening in that country: “If a [non-Ukrainian] refugee wants to apply for asylum in the Netherlands it would be better for them to wait a while. At the moment the whole system capacity has been allocated to Ukrainians.”

Elsewhere, the Italian government has announced that Italy has increased funds allocated to support Ukrainian refugees from €500 million to €800 million. As of now, at least 107,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Italy, 90 percent of whom are women and children. Germany reports that more than 600,000 Ukrainians have crossed its borders since the war started.

The matter is the subject of heated debate in the United States as well. Most support the Biden administration’s policy of welcoming Ukrainians, but others have castigated its neglect of other vulnerable people, especially Afghans. Washington is trying to accommodate up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees after it failed to save tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to escape reimposed Taliban rule.



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Iranian Refugees in Germany 'Kicked Out of Accommodation' to Make Way for Ukrainians