The Soapbox: Migrants continue to suffer at borders

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk examining the major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Kristian Burt, News Editor

Polish and Ukrainian border guards reportedly discriminate against African and South Asian students

Among the more than one million refugees who have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, a number of African and South Asian students are accusing Polish and Ukrainian border guards and police of racial discrimination and abuse. 

Students described their experiences of the evacuation process, during which they were discriminated against and physically abused. Some have reportedly been thrown off of trains, while others have been held at the border as white Ukrainians passed without issue. 

One group of students, including 19-year-old space engineering student Barlaney Mufaro Gurure, was pushed out of a line of refugees crossing into Poland and was unable to cross for hours. 

“We felt treated like animals,” Gurure said. “When we left [Kyiv] we were just trying to survive. We never thought that they would have treated us like that … I thought we were all equal, that we were trying to stand together.”

Ukraine has been a popular destination for many African and South Asian students studying business, medicine and engineering. More than 20,000 Indian students and around 19,000 African students were living in the country in 2020.

A coalition of human rights attorneys and other activists filed an appeal to the United Nations on March 2 on behalf of Black refugees who are facing racial discrimination. The appeal requests the United Nations to support the call for Ukraine and Poland to issue executive orders that would declare border police to treat African and South Asian refugees with equal protection when fleeing the country.

They face one war waged by Russia, and they face a second war waged by racism because of the color of their skin,” civil rights attorney Jasmine Rand said. “We are here today because Black Lives Matter in times of war, and in times of peace.”

On the Spanish border, a massive influx of migrants leads to hospitalizations

More than 2,500 migrants attempted to cross into the Spanish city Melilla from Morocco on March 2. After clashes with police while trying to climb the fenced border, between 500 and 800 migrants eventually crossed successfully.

“This was the biggest entry attempt we have on record,” the Spanish government’s local delegation said. “Around 9:30 am, there was a huge attempt to cross Melilla’s border by a group of about 2,500 sub-Saharan Africans.” 

Between 20 and 31 migrants were admitted to hospitals following the crossings, and around 16 Spanish security officers sustained minor injuries. Most of the 800 migrants are being housed in temporary shelters, where they will stay while Spain determines if they can remain in the country or be deported.

The crossing marks the latest migrant surge in a long history of Spanish border issues, with migrants from various African countries utilizing the only two Spanish territories on the African continent, Melilla and Ceuta, as routes to enter Europe.

Around 1,100 migrants were able to enter Melilla throughout 2021, and more than 10,000 migrants were able to cross into Ceuta in May 2021 after Morocco eased its border control due to a diplomatic argument with Spain. 

In addition to these migrant issues in Melilla and Ceuta, around 4,404 migrants were reported dead while trying to enter Spain in 2021 — more than twice the number of deaths in 2020. Due to attempts to curb migration, migrants have increasingly turned away from crossing at the relatively safe Melilla and Ceuta and towards the more dangerous Canary Islands route.

On the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump’s wall backfires, Biden stays mum

More than 400 miles of concrete fences built on the border to keep out migrants — one of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s prized achievements — has reportedly failed. Smugglers have crossed through the wall around 3,272 times throughout the past three years, according to records from the United States Customs and Border Protection.

Migrant groups have been able to cut through the wall — which cost taxpayers around $11 billion — with about $100 of common hardware power tools. The wall has also seen massive damage during severe storms, including when large sections of the wall broke off during a monsoon in August 2021.

President Joe Biden scarcely touched on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border during his State of the Union address on March 1, addressing the topic with a mere 11 sentences. 

Although Biden has been somewhat successful in protecting immigrants’ rights, many of his candidacy promises have yet to be met. Haitian migrants seeking asylum in the United States have been consistently deported since the start of Biden’s presidency, with more than 20,000 Haitians deported as of Feb. 17.

The future of the wall remains unclear. Though Biden halted its construction in January 2021, some have said construction crews have allegedly continued to build border-like walls as of this January.

Contact Kristian Burt at [email protected]