The chill of a Cold War hung over Eastern Europe again, with no end in sight for the war between the Ukraine and Russia. Just within ten days after the war started, over one million refugees have fled to neighboring nations of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and Slovakia.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency (UNCHR), in seven days, one million people ( accounting for two percent of Ukraine’s population) have fled, uprooted by war, with four million more estimated will need protection and assistance in neighboring countries in the coming months.
In the aftermath of this huge influx of refugees, many reports reveal that thousands of stranded African citizens, who have been residing in Ukraine, are currently facing racial discrimination and abuse at the border crossings.
Multiple reports indicate that while several Africans and other foreigners were ordered off buses to make room for Ukrainian nationals, some are not being permitted to cross into other countries, and were left stranded in border towns.
Though hundreds of thousands of people are trying to flee the conflict, Ukrainian border officials were, according to the report, following instructions from their Polish counterparts to not allow people of African descent pass through the border.
African citizens, who had been living in Ukraine, said they were in the cold without food or shelter, because of the authority’s decision to let only Ukrainians’ pass.
“Fleeing African students have been left stranded at the border as a food crisis looms for countries dependent on Russian and Ukrainian grain,” Foreign policy reported on March 2, 2022. The report mentioned that around 20 percent of Ukraine’s foreign students are Africans, with Moroccans making up the largest group with 8,000 students, Nigerians 4,000, and 3,500 students from Egypt.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Education said Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt are among the top 10 countries with foreign students in Ukraine, accounting for over 16,000 students.
Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister, Anton Heraschenko, denied his country was obstructing foreigners from leaving.
As more and more people scramble to flee Ukraine, amid racism and abuses, Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, in a joint statement issued on Monday said, they were disturbed by the reports that African citizens are being refused the right to cross borders.
The Chairpersons urged all countries to “show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity.”
A subsequent statement published by the President of Nigeria also expressed disappointment over the alleged reports of mistreatment of some Nigerian nationals while attempting to flee Ukraine. The President urged customs authorities in Ukraine and neighboring countries to treat its citizens “with dignity” amid growing accusations.
However, African nations could not reach a consensus at United Nations Wednesday’s UN General Assembly. The emergency session was convened to adopt a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and call for the immediate withdrawal of its forces.
In this historic UN General Assembly vote, 141 nations condemned Russia and demanded the withdrawal of its forces, calling for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.
During the emergency session, five countries in the world voted against the resolution which was debated for more than two days. Eritrea was the only country that has voted against the resolution, along with North Korea, Belarus, Russia, and Syria.
28 African countries endorsed the resolution and of the 35 countries who have abstained 17 were from Africa, and of the 12 countries that were absent from the votes, eight countries including Ethiopia, were from Africa.
The dependency of the African continent on Russia and Ukraine has put many African leaders between a rock and a hard place, opting to forge a neutral position.
Moscow’s growing influence in Africa has led to divergent responses among the continent’s leaders; there is still a huge Ukrainian influence on the continent too. Ukrainian exports to Africa are growing steadily from the USD 210 million in 1996, to USD 1.75 billion in 2005, and over USD four billion in 2020.
Russia has also signed a military cooperation agreement and alliances with Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mali, Libya, Sudan, and other countries.
In 2020, African countries imported agricultural products worth USD four billion from Russia and USD 2.9 billion from Ukraine. Wheat accounted for approximately 90 percent of these imports, according to Foreign Policy’s report.
In an article published by Khanyi Mlaba on the Global Citizen portal, Mlaba said while northern African nations like Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria are highly reliant on grains mostly imported from Ukraine and Russia, countries including Madagascar, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad, Burkina Faso, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are identified by the UN as on the brink of famine, that need access to such reliefs.
Watching the conflict in Ukraine, the growing contest between the US along with its European allies and Russia, and the Breakdown of US-Russia diplomacy runs deep beyond Ukraine.
Analysts said the two giant’s diplomats; despite eyeing each other warily across negotiating tables, never much trusted each other.
In a report the German Development Institute stated that Russia’s strategy in Africa appears to involve a mix of arms sales, political support to authoritarian leaders and security collaborations – in exchange for mining rights, business opportunities and diplomatic support for Russia’s foreign policy preferences.
This offer of military assistance and political support, especially for authoritarian African leaders, has opened the door to Russian firms and strengthened diplomatic relationships.
The US has also established a policy framework that intends to builds on a legacy of positive American initiatives and enhance its diplomatic ties through a variety of supporting programs such as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Power Africa and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which the African Center for Strategic Studies described it as one of the mechanisms of counteracting Russian engagement in the continent.