As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, as with every war, it is regular working people that pay the highest price. The conflict has thus far resulted in the displacement of over three million refugees. Europe and Canada, alongside other NATO countries, have opened their doors wide for Ukrainian refugees. This has included numerous support programs and the waiving of wait-times to get into NATO countries.
We stand in solidarity with these refugees, who are blameless victims of an imperialist conflict. However, this welcoming attitude puts into question the selective refugee policies of Canada and other NATO countries. We believe all refugees should be welcome, not just Ukrainians.
Hypocritical refugee policies exposed
In many ways, the generous and open welcome that Ukrainians have received has run counter to the general way in which refugees are treated in the West. The new and more open policies have ranged from free train travel for fleeing Ukrainians to Germany, to jobs for Ukrainian refugees in the EU as well as Canada. According to Ontario’s labour minister, Monte McNaughton, there will be more than 30,000 jobs available for Ukrainian refugees entering Ontario.
Of course, we are absolutely in favour of every measure that helps these refugees. The doors should be swung wide open for fleeing Ukrainians, who deserve our utmost sympathy. But one has to ask, why is this not the policy for all people? In fact, the treatment of refugees has historically been the exact opposite. In the EU, refugees usually face a 22 per cent higher rate of unemployment than other kinds of immigrants. Canada is no exception to this hypocrisy. Since January, Canada has accepted over 6,000 Ukrainian refugees in a mere two months. In comparison, only 8,500 Afghan refugees have been admitted into the country since August of 2021, despite the Trudeau government promising to allow 40,000 refugees in. This is extremely hypocritical considering Canadian imperialism’s role in destroying Afghanistan through a thirteen year military occupation and creating the conditions for these very same refugees.
The most striking double standard has come from “Fortress Europe” which earned the nickname due to the callous and xenophobic response that EU countries like Poland and Hungary gave to the millions of Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees that fled to Europe in 2015. At the time most countries, including Poland and Hungary, took an aggressively anti-refugee approach. This led to the deaths of refugees on rafts in the Mediterranean, and dozens of refugees dying in the cold on the Polish border. Yet it seems now, the doors of Fortress Europe have been flung wide open for Ukrainian refugees.
Crocodile tears from xenophobic leaders
It is very telling that the same leaders that previously have actively demonized refugees are now speaking of the need to help Ukrainians. Polish interior minister Mariusz Kaminski stated to journalists that “We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it.” The hypocrisy could not be more evident from a government that just last year was violently pushing Middle-Eastern refugees from its borders. The most open expression of this double-standard was voiced by Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who stated “These are not the refugees we are used to; these are Europeans…They are intelligent, they are educated people.”
Even now, as Ukrainian refugees are allowed to flee to neighbouring countries like Poland and Hungary, black non-Ukrainians, Arabs, and other migrants that do not have a Ukrainian passport have been held at the Polish border, despite fleeing from the exact same warzone. These refugees, many of them international students from Africa, were forced to instead move back into the warzone in order to try their luck at the Hungarian border, putting them in enormous danger. This is a disgusting act of racism that has been widely condemned, forcing the Polish government to backtrack in an effort to mitigate the damage to their public image.
It can be tempting to attribute all of this to racism, as brown and black migrants are sidelined in favour of white European refugees. It is clearly racist to separate refugees in this manner, but the problem runs much deeper than the racist outlook of this or that political figure. In reality, these racist distinctions are driven by an imperialist agenda. Western governments do not care any more for Ukrainians than they did Syrian refugees before them. The question of which refugee is prioritized can be directly tied to imperial interests abroad. We cannot forget that Western countries often cited humanitarian concerns when invading Iraq and Afghanistan, as troops were sent on ‘peacekeeping’ missions in the Middle-East. Similarly, it was perfectly acceptable to displace white Europeans in the bombing of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The absolute hypocrisy of NATO governments was put on full display in the U.K., where despite the supposedly warm welcome from Boris Johnson and other members of the British government, it did not take long for Priti Patel, Home Secretary for the Johnson government, to denounce the dangers of accepting refugees—even Ukrainian ones. According to Patel, these refugees could even pose a terror threat! How on earth can we rely on such people to deal with the refugee crisis? Accepting refugees is just a cynical publicity stunt to these politicians.
In contrast to this, it is important to remember that solidarity is an instinctive reaction among regular working class people. For example, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, thousands of Syrian refugees were resettled voluntarily into people’s homes in Canada. This was not done at the initiative of the government, but through voluntary application from regular people. While regular working people often see the need to help suffering refugees, the same cannot be said of those in power who only wish to aid refugees when it is politically convenient and fits with their overall imperialist ambitions.
The truth is that dealing with Yemeni or Syrian refugees would shine a light on the imperialist nature of NATO. It would reveal the weapons that are being funneled to Saudi Arabia to conduct a genocide in Yemen, or the role the Iraq war played in creating millions of refugees in the Middle East. The reality of the situation is clear now for all to see: When NATO conducts wars and creates refugees, those refugees do not matter. When Russian imperialism does the exact same thing, it is a massive humanitarian crisis and the civilized west springs into action. Ukrainian refugees are simply a convenient tool for western capitalism to hypocritically attack Russia, and are being utilized as such.
All refugees should be welcomed
It is telling that amidst the crisis, all of the usual complaints of a lack of resources to help refugees have been absent from the discussion. When it comes to refugees, there is usually no shortage of right-wing commentators that blame refugees and migrants for economic problems. This scapegoating is usually done to distract workers away from the capitalist class which is responsible for the inequality in our society, and instead put blame on the poorest and most powerless. The reality is that apart from the immediate settlement expenses, immigrants have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the economy and society. This truth is essentially admitted by the absence of arguments about “expense” of Ukrainian refugees.
There is more than enough wealth in Canada to not only settle Ukrainian refugees, but all refugees, permanently. There is enough wealth to provide housing, work, and education to all who need it. It is easy to forget that large North American companies are sitting on over $7 trillion of uninvested money—A ridiculous sum that could fund every social program in existence. The top 50 Canadian companies have additionally made over $100 million in profit each during the pandemic. TD Bank alone grew its profit margin by a whopping 25 per cent. It is these profits which can and should be used to help working people. Once people are settled, they will make our society all the better.
War under capitalism has always been a global game between imperialist powers. Ukrainian refugees are blameless victims in this game, and deserve every support possible. However, it cannot stop there. Every refugee, whether from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Honduras, Colombia, or elsewhere must be treated like Ukrainian refugees. All refugees must be allowed into the country and given full support, including access to social programs, housing, financial aid, and a good-paying job. The resources exist in Canada to make such a world possible. However, figures like Boris Johnson, Doug Ford, and Justin Trudeau will never prioritize suffering refugees over the profits of the Canadian capitalists. That is why we need to fight for a socialist world, starting with overthrowing our own capitalist class right here in Canada. Only an end to capitalism, and a socialist society, can bring about the help that all refugees need and end imperialist conflict once and for all.