An alliance of prominent civil rights lawyers from around the world announced on Wednesday that it would file a complaint with the United Nations on behalf of black refugees who faced discrimination as they tried to flee Ukraine.
The group includes Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney for the families of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery; attorney Jasmine Rand, who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown; Peter Herbert, one of the few non-white British judges; Jamaican MP G. Anthony Hylton; British lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie; and Carlos Moore, president of the National Bar Association in the United States. They plan to file the appeal with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Earlier this week, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister has acknowledged that some Africans seeking to escape Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have faced discriminatory practices at the country’s borders.
“Such blatant racism cannot be tolerated,” said Zita Holbourne, chair of Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts UK. says The Independent. “The human rights of black and brown people, mainly students located in Ukraine, must be respected and a safe exit facilitated for all, without discriminatory selection processes at borders. The targeting of black and brown people in this way is a racist violation of human rights on top of a human rights crisis that affects all people forced to flee Ukraine.
Robert A. Sanders, a retired U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps captain and legal and national security educator at the University of New Haven, welcomed the lawyers’ announcement.
“It’s totally appropriate,” Sanders told NBC News. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “made statements to Russia about its human rights activities during its attack on Ukraine. And so, it’s entirely appropriate for this same body to look at what Ukraine is doing, which, while sad, is not surprising because we live in a world that has structures and systemic pieces built over centuries that make Blacks and Browns less than .
Dammy Raji, a Nigerian medical student in Ukraine, had planned to stay in Lviv until the Russian invasion became “too intense”. So she packed her things to leave.
She said she had heard of racism at the borders, where black people were routinely denied entry into safe countries. When Raji and her friends tried to flee to Poland this week, she said they endured what other Africans shared across the world via social media.
They weren’t allowed to board two trains in Lviv because “the Ukrainians want their people to leave first,” she said.
Raji said reports of border unrest for black people were beneficial in his attempts to leave. Although she struggled to cross, she eventually made it to Poland.
“We took the train because we heard it was easier at the border,” she said. “But it was really hard to get on the train as black people. They prioritized their people, especially women and children. … Ukrainians who want their people to come first.
Sanders said it was dishonest for non-blacks to dismiss early reports of border racism.
“One of those things that struck me was the immediate failure of white people everywhere,” he said. “To be in disbelief that racism was happening at the borders…” Oh, well, there must be another reason why they’re holding them back. They let the women and children out.
“I hear that and say, ‘You’re giving me an invalid excuse because you can’t own up to and understand the reality of the world you live in and, in part, some of you helped create.’
Safely in Poland, Raji said a non-governmental organization helped her and her friends settle. She said the Poles were not the problem at the borders.
They are “very accommodating,” she said. “They’re really nice, and there are a lot of NGO places for foreigners because of what they hear online. So I think the awareness is what helped us.