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Media Bias: Why Are Refugees from Ukraine and the Middle East Treated So Differently?

For nearly four weeks now, the world has watched in horror as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has unfolded. Those tuned into the news have faced the distressing and heart-wrenching scenes of families being forced out of their homes, innocent lives being ruthlessly taken, and whole towns being destroyed. Such stories have dominated the media landscape, especially in the UK, where there has been extensive news coverage, as well as special reports and programmes dedicated to the events. 

Consequently, many European countries have felt moved to welcome Ukrainian people to their country with open arms. Ireland has lifted all visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens, and Poland has pledged its full support by granting “anyone whose safety is in danger” entry to the country. In Britain, this has led over 100,000 people registering to nominate the rooms of their homes to Ukrainian families. It’s been an extraordinary effort, which, according to the UN, has granted over 2 million Ukrainians the urgent safety they require. 

But on the flip side, this has also led many to ask why this has not been the same for the hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees and asylum-seekers, who remain hounded, rejected and stranded at borders. They are also fleeing dreadful conflict, so why have there been no attempts to establish safe routes to safety for them? Ultimately, disaster reporting in the media is critical in setting ideas about people worldwide. Therefore, many activists have blamed the media’s bias for the differences in situations. Mainly, they have drawn on the stark incongruities between the framing of stories on Ukrainian vs the Middle Eastern. 

When tuning in to the news today, it is possible to see a direct attempt made by journalists to engage with Ukrainian citizens and understand their experiences on the ground. Headlines delve into looking at who’s affected and how they can be supported. However, most news reporting and images of the Middle Eastern refugees, particularly in 2014, fall short of doing this. Syrian refugees, in particular, are often portrayed as anonymous, faceless masses often in boats dangerously overloaded. Stories focus more on relaying dry facts and figures instead of giving a human voice to the experiences of the people within them. 

Of course, it is not obvious why this is the case. Some individuals have argued that prejudice or favouritism has been given to Ukrainians because they are white and European. To this extent, their circumstances are “more relatable”. Even reporters, live on air have spoken to this point. A CBS reporter said Ukraine “isn’t a place like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades” instead “it is a relatively civilised, European country”. He goes on to say “This is in a city where you wouldn’t expect it to happen, or at least hope it to happen”. Another news reporter said “this is not a developing, third-world nation. This is Europe”.

To this extent, many have argued the situation exposes the extent of the systemic racism embedded in many Western societies. Though this is difficult to understand, it does highlight a straightforward truth. That is, the empathy and generosity that the world has extended to Ukrainians should stretch further to all refugees, regardless of their race, religion or nationality. No country has the right to invade another, and the pain in the eyes of the Ukrainians is no more than the pain in the eyes of Middle Eastern refugees. We should see this situation today as a chance to learn more about refugees everywhere, including those Middle Eastern refugees who are still fleeing conflict. 

Useful Links

  1. UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency): https://www.unhcr.org/uk/
  2. SolidariTeehttps://www.solidaritee.org.uk/
  3. Anera: https://www.anera.org/what-we-do/
  4. The British Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org.uk/

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