Our sort of refugees?

The Ukraine crisis sharply highlights the communist demand for open borders, writes Eddie Ford

We are now constantly exposed to images of refugees from Ukraine fleeing the brutal Russian invasion. According to the United Nations, so far almost 700,00 have left - with the European Union estimating that up to four million may try to escape Ukraine. Also, at least 160,000 people are internally displaced - a figure which could climb to seven million or more.

A human tidal wave, these casualties of war are crossing the borders to neighbouring countries to the west, such as Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova. Poland, an immediate port of call, has to date taken in over 377,000 refugees - its government saying a further 50,000 are arriving every day. Poland is also preparing a medical train to transport wounded Ukrainians, and has drawn up a list of 1,230 hospitals to send them to. Grimly, very many people have been waiting for up to 60 hours to cross at border points into Poland, in freezing weather - some of the queues are up to 10 miles long. Just as many have not been able to board trains taking them out of Ukrainian cities. According to Poland’s interior minister, Maciej Wąsik, the government has to be prepared for a million refugees. Because of the complex interplay of history, Poland is already home to about two million Ukrainians - many of whom have moved there since the 2014 conflict, when Russia annexed Crimea, taking advantage of a relatively easy scheme to gain work permits.

Hungary and Moldova have taken 90,000 and 65,000 refugees respectively - whilst Slovakia has accepted 54,000 and Romania 38,000. Romania and Hungary are giving out cash allowances for food and clothing. In order to gain refugee status, those fleeing need to be Ukrainian citizens or people legally living in Ukraine, such as migrant workers - of which there are many. Indeed, there are various reports that African refugees fleeing Ukraine are being subjected to “bloodshot racism”.1 One British-Zimbabwean student said she had received “some threats of violence from some local Ukrainians”, when she tweeted about her journey to the Romanian border. A Nigerian national described how he and his family were forced to give up their seat on a bus out of Ukraine, with the driver and military officers saying “no blacks”. The African Union has issued a statement saying they were “particularly disturbed” by reports that African citizens on the Ukrainian side of the border are being “refused the right to cross the border to safety”. Apparently, Indians and Arabs - especially Syrians - are also receiving rough treatment.

Of course, it is rather ironic that Poland is so enthusiastic about accepting refugees. Like its ghastly reactionary twin, Hungary, its government has spewed out a steady stream of xenophobic, anti-migrant propaganda, which at times has shaded into open racism. For instance, last year the Polish government declared that it had “repelled” attempts by migrants to enter the country at its eastern border with Belarus, erecting a huge razor-wire fence and deploying 12,000 troops - accusing the Belarusian government of “hostile activity”. Conditions for migrants stuck at the border were appalling, with sub-zero temperatures. Yet the Polish government blocked access to aid groups and dozens died in the cold.

But those refugees coming in from Ukraine are mainly Catholic and white, which makes them acceptable. Whilst this could sound like a conspiracy theory to some, Poland might also have long-term dreams of re-expanding into Ukrainian territory if the country is defeated - a modern day Wielkopolska. However, for the last word on this you have to hand it to the Bulgarian president, Rumen Radev - who summed it up near perfectly. Talking about the Ukrainians, he described them as “not the refugees we are used to … these people are Europeans” - that is, “intelligent” and “educated”. You see, he added, when it came to previous refugee waves, “we were not sure about their identity - people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists”. By contrast, the Ukrainians are our sort of refugees. People like us.

For its part, the EU has relaxed its rules on refugees and declared that its member-states will welcome them with “open arms”. Hence the bloc will consider accepting all Ukrainian nationals for up to three years visa-free, without having to go through the asylum procedure, and with access to employment and social welfare.


Turning to home, it almost goes without saying that the initial reaction of the British government to the escalating refugee crisis was mean-spirited and heartless.

At the weekend, the government announced that there would be some changes to the visa rules for Ukrainian refugees wanting to come to the UK: “Any person settled in the UK will be able to bring their Ukrainian immediate family members to join them here,” said No10. Home secretary Priti Patel stated she was creating a “bespoke humanitarian route” and that these changes would lead to an extra 100,000 Ukrainians becoming eligible for the scheme - meaning up to 200,000 could possibly arrive in the UK. As for Ben ‘sniff of Munich’ Wallace, the defence minister, he argued that the UK had been generous to Hong Kong and Afghan nationals/refugees and thus would look again at government policy in the light of the EU’s decision to consider accepting all Ukrainian nationals for up to three years visa-free.

However, when you looked at the small print, it became apparent that the home office had applied a very tight definition of “immediate” family. The visas, which are available free under this scheme, were only available to relatives who were spouses, unmarried partners of at least two years, parents or children of a person already in Britain (provided the child was under 19), or adult relatives who were also carers. Other temporary concessions included allowing Ukrainian nationals to extend their stay in the UK without the nonsense of having to leave and reapply for a new visa from overseas - plus Ukrainians already in the UK on a visitor visa can switch to a points-based route or a family visa route. Once again, not exactly full of the milk of human kindness. Furthermore, applicants will still be subject to the daft English-language test and a minimum income requirement, under the typical government caveat: “Given the current circumstances, if somebody does not meet these requirements, UKVI [Visas and Immigration] will consider an alternative grant of leave to come to the UK.” But at the end of the day there was no guarantee that, after consideration, a visa will be given to those who do not meet these requirements, even if they fall into the limited category of eligible family members.

Inevitably, these miserable concessions generated outrage. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, called them “shameful” - which is true enough. Members of the One Nation group of Tory MPs - a ‘centrist’ caucus of around 40 members, including former cabinet ministers Greg Clark, Damian Green and Jeremy Hunt - urged the prime minister to do more to help Ukrainian refugees. The UK “must not flag or fail”, they said in a letter: “this should not be business as usual”. Rather, “we need sincere and immediate support” for Ukrainian “victims of war, seeking refuge” - who are “welcome” here (sounding a bit like the Socialist Workers Party). Feeling the pressure, the government “expanded” its family visa scheme, so that “immediate” now included siblings, adult parents, grandparents and adult children. Also, a new visa route called the “humanitarian sponsorship pathway” will be created to let British businesses bring Ukrainians to the UK, even if they have no family ties to the country. Additionally, Patel said she would lower various requirements and salary thresholds for Ukrainians with family in the UK.

But the underlying meanness is still there. The abominable Patel rules out any visa-free travel for Ukrainians on the premise that “Russian agents” and “extremists” could infiltrate into the country, leading to another Salisbury-style poisoning. According to the home secretary, security and biometric checks are “a fundamental part of our visa approval process worldwide and will continue”. It will still be the case, insisted Patel, that after 12 months Ukrainian refugees will have to apply for a points-based or family-reunion visa to stay longer. Most grotesquely of all, Patel’s ‘flap-ship’ Nationality and Borders Bill contains a clause that would effectively criminalise many Ukrainian refugees entering the UK via “irregular routes” - meaning that people who made their own way into the UK would be given an inferior form of protection with more limited rights. In reality, thanks to that clause, the UK is going to be a cold house for many Ukrainians fleeing war. Unsurprisingly, the House of Lords on February 28 rejected the clause by a majority of 78. As per normal procedure, the changes made in the Lords will return to the Commons and the government could then accept the alterations or challenge them - almost certainly it will choose the latter option.

Obviously, the current crisis sharply highlights the communist demand for open borders and the free movement of peoples - an absolutely necessity for humanity as a whole, not just Ukrainians trying to escape the horrors of war. International capital and bourgeois governments have no right to determine where workers can and cannot live. The world belongs to humanity as a whole, not to the ruling class of each state.


  1. standard.co.uk/news/world/african-refugees-ukraine-racist-treatment-trains-b985258.html.↩︎