ACHRS Statements

EU applies double standards on refugees

On February 24th, 2022, the Russian autocrat Putin started his invasion of Ukraine, forcing meanwhile millions of Ukrainians to leave their homes and country. While the EU reacted within a few weeks by granting them the rights to live, work and access social services, African and Arab migrants are still illegally pushed back by EU member states, drowning in the Mediterranean, cooped in detention centres, or mulcted of their right to seek asylum in a safe country through the EU-Turkey or EU-Libya deal.

ACHRS endorses the implementation of sweeping measures to help Ukrainian refugees, whereas it strictly condemns the substantial discrimination of refugees from other parts of the world.

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It´s been more than two months since the Russian autocrat Putin started his invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. Due to the concomitant bombings of Ukrainian cities, regardless of civil residencies, hospitals, and maternity wards, meanwhile, 10 million Ukrainians had to leave their homes, 3.5 million of them have already left the country. In a rare moment of solidarity and unity, the EU reacted with a whole bunch of new fortified sanctions against Russian oligarchs, politicians and companies and excluded at least some Russian banks from SWIFT, a global messaging system, essential for financial transactions.

Apart from the sanctions against Putin, a whole slew of countries allowed and enforced arms shipments to support Ukraine, even Germany, which had been – at least publicly – rather hesitant to deliver arms in regions of ongoing conflicts. But astonishingly and fortunately European solidarity did not stop at this point. Citizens welcoming and backing Ukrainian refugees at the train stations, families willing to accommodate them in their homes, communities providing shelter and food or companies providing jobs and services depict a powerful example of European values in action. Coming along with this inspirational civil solidarity, the EU council put the ‘Temporary Protection Directive’ into force for the first time ever on March 4th, within eight days after Putin´s invasion had begun.


The roots of this directive date back to the nineties, when the largest influx of persons fleeing since the second world war arose in Europe as a consequence of the Yugoslavian war and the Kosovo crisis. To prevent a recurrence of an equally uncoordinated response to such a large immigration flow and to distribute pressures evenly on the member states, the EU elaborated the ‘Temporary Protection Directive’ (TPD). Its target-setting comprises “to establish minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx” and “to promote a balance of effort between Member States in receiving and bearing the consequences of  receiving such persons.”

In practice, the TPD´s implementation means numerous and substantial forms of relief for Ukrainian refugees in Europe. They receive a residence permit for up to three years, access to accommodation, employment, social welfare, medical treatment, and education for minors, as well as the opportunity to reunite with family members within the EU. Furthermore, Ukrainians are allowed to freely move in the EU and in 24 of the member states they are granted free travel options by train or public transport. Although the large wave of solidarity within the European civil society and the implementation of the TPD by the EU constitute certainly a very welcome demonstration of basic European values, it raises the question of why these values are exclusively applied to humans fleeing from Putin´s invasion of Ukraine.

Not even one year ago, in autumn 2021, thousands of asylum seekers ended up stranded at the Polish border with Belarus. For many, this meant a fatal death trap as temperatures reached minus degrees, violent and torturing Belarussian security forces in their back and violent Polish authorities in their front. Iraqi, Afghani, and Syrian families had to persevere in small tents, trying to keep warm in damp sleeping bags, burying their frozen family members under leaves, whilst other bodies were torn apart by animals. In case the asylum seekers were
captured by Polish forces, they would in most cases have illegally pushed them back across the border to Belarus, disregardful of hypothermia or underfeeding and with the risk their health might deteriorate. Even though there are efforts to help the asylum seekers by the Polish and European civil society, Polish families who provide shelter in their homes for them are being charged with aiding illegal immigration in case they are detected by Polish authorities.

Also human rights defenders, interpreters and journalists trying to document Human Rights violations and to provide the asylum seekers with necessary and entitled goods and services are threatened and harassed by Polish undercover forces. Until today, thousands of asylum seekers have to hold out in Belarus, as in warehouses, transformed into provisional dormitories, while temperatures reached -12°C outside during the winter. Whilst the EU vastly stayed deedless regarding this humanitarian crisis at its border, instead, the Polish government sprang
into action, quadrupled the number of border guards, and created a two-mile-deep militarised zone ringed with razor-wire.

Since January 2022 Polish contractors have started the construction of a 5.5m-high wall along half of the Polish-Belarussian border, to deter asylum seekers from crossing. The same government now uncomplainingly welcomed over 2.000.000 Ukrainian refugees. Despite the massive influx of migrants in the course of this tragic occurrence, the EU neither activated the mentioned TPD nor took any other helpful action to palliate the suffering of the asylum seekers at the Belarussian border. The European double standards become even more obvious in consideration of refugees from the ongoing Syrian civil war as well as other conflicts in Arab and African countries. For meanwhile 11 years the bombing and killing in Syria have been lasting with no prospect of a quick end. Already in 2015, this caused the so-called ‘Refugee Crisis in Europe’. But the EU neither considered it as a “mass influx” nor a reason to activate the TPD, unless alone in this single year 1.3 million mainly Syrian refugees had applied for asylum in the EU.

By the end of 2016, almost 5.2 million refugees and migrants reached European borders, after malicious escape routes from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other states torn apart by war and prosecution. Alone in the past year, over 114.000 migrants reached the shores of Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta via the western, central, and eastern routes through the Mediterranean. 3.200 of them either died or went missing, in 2016 even more than 5.000 died on the same passage, making it the deadliest migration route in the world. The European answer to the migratory influxes through the Balkan and Mediterranean seas was even more disastrous than the inaction in the mentioned Polish-Belarussian crisis. Neither in this crisis, the TPD should be executed. Instead, the taken measures tried to prevent migrants from ever reaching an EU border.

Despite warnings by the back then Commissioner for Human Rights, Muižnieks, the EU-Turkey deal would disregard human rights standards, the EU concluded this agreement with the Turkish autocrat Erdogan, transferring him billions of Euros for preventing refugees to reach the EU border. The deal misleadingly considers Turkey as a “safe third country” or “safe first country of asylum”, allowing the EU and its member Greece not to evaluate the individual protection needs. Turkey indeed signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, but limits full refugee status only to Europeans, and not for instance to Syrians or Iraqis. On this ground, nonEuropean refugees are not granted the full convention´s protection. In the following of the deal, Greece introduced policies cooping people entering through the Mediterranean in detention camps, waiting for a decision on their asylum claims – usually meaning deportation to Turkey. Although many civil society and human rights organizations condemned the EU-Turkey deal, the EU continued its policies of impeding refugees to reach European shores. For the 6th year now, European authorities cooperate with the Libyan coastguard, help to capture refugees on the Mediterranean and return them to Libyan detention camps. Amnesty International repeatedly reported severe human rights violations in such camps. Arbitrary detention, torture, cruel detention conditions, rape and sexual violence, extortion, forced labour, and unlawful killings await men, women, and children returned to Libya.


On top of the agreements with Turkey and Libya, externalizing migration issues to other countries, the EU and its member states themselves used brutal tactics to illegally push back migrants from the EU border. As the Guardian revealed in an analysis from 2021, at least 40.000 asylum seekers had illegally been pushed back during the pandemic. Supported by Frontex, member states have systematically pushed back thousands of men, women, and children, using illegal tactics ranging from assault to brutality during detention or transportation. According to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Croatian police pushed back nearly 18,000 migrants to Bosnia by intensified systemic violence since the start of the pandemic. Migrants report having been whipped, robbed, sexually abused and stripped naked by members of the Croatian police.

Finally, in case Arabic or African asylum seekers can make it through all these barriers, and they finally reach the EU, they will not await free transport, an instant right for residency or work, the chance to reunify with their family or access to social welfare. Instead, they are facing long-lasting, complicated and demanding procedures for granting them the right of asylum, they are forced into initial reception centres for asylum applicants, cannot easily participate in the labour market and daily have to fear deportation. According to recent reports (German), non-Ukrainian refugees in Berlin, and Nordrhein-Westfalen even had to leave their accommodations to often worse housings, including lodging houses, to clear space for the newly arriving Ukrainians.

ACHRS endorses the fast political reaction towards the Ukrainian refugee influx by the EU, as well as the pervasive wave of solidarity within the European society. At the same time, the discriminatory treatment of refugees and migrants, fleeing from other conflicts and countries, reveals how the EU applies double standards depending on the origin of the refugee. ACHRS calls out for equal treatment for equal people. No matter whether they are fleeing from the Ukrainian or the Syrian war, they deserve to be treated equally good and in line with the principles of Human Rights.

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