Millions of Ukrainians are coming. How long will it take before our goodwill turns into open hostility?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Remember 2015, when some 1.3 million million asylum seekers came to Europe from countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia? Europe says welcome! Tervetuloa (welcome)! Meillä on tilaa (there is room for you)! After the initial outpouring of support and understanding for these people fleeing wars that we had started, attitudes took an abrupt turn for the worst.

New soundbites emerged: Go back to your countries! Social welfare bums! Illegal “refugees.”

Behind those sinister phrases were plans to make life as difficult as possible for these asylum seekers, who were mainly non-white and Muslims.

Today, Europe is ready to grant Ukrainians and foreigners fleeing war in Ukraine special protection status. If approved, it would give such refugees automatic residence permits, work permits, and access to social welfare for up to three years.


In 2016, the EU was welcoming, sometimes with open arms, asylum seekers from outside the EU. Photo: Enrique Tessieri

Europe is again opening its arms to refugees. We are even going farther by granting automatic residence permits and access to social welfare. How long will it take before our history gets the best of us and turns our kindness into open hostility?

This question is not out of place, considering that Europe has had some of the worst human rights abuses, atrocities, and wars in all of history. And what about the change in the security balance of Europe? Isn’t that propelled as well by a generous shot of xenophobia and questioning the actions of an autocratic leader in the Kremlin?

Have these atrocities and abuses disappeared due to the tragic events in Ukraine?

Not at all. Human Rights abuses, atrocities, and wars are still flowing freely under our society, waiting to lash out.

While the whiteness of the Ukrainians fleeing war exposes our hypocrisy about who has a right to seek asylum and access to human rights, it is only a partial explanation for the shift in attitudes towards refugees.

According to various studies, in the United Kingdom, white Polish immigrants suffer from a high degree of discrimination.

How long will it take before our attitudes start to shift against Ukrainian refugees about how crime has risen, how they are robbing our jobs, and abusing the system.

In order not to repeat the tragic mistakes of the past, isn’t it high time that Europe gets off its high exceptionalist stool and comes to grips with its shameful and barbaric history?