Though Afghan and Ukrainian refugees may find themselves fleeing to the same country, their experiences are starkly different. The treatment of these two groups by the United States (U.S.) do not reflect an even policy nor cultural attitude towards those seeking asylum from hostile governments or a devastating invasion, but rather show a naked bias America has towards which refugee comes from which country.
This disparity is visible from two perspectives– the first being governmental. Despite the Biden Administration’s claims that there is no “double standard” when it comes to acceptance of refugees from any country, it is evident that there lies a favoritism towards refugees from Ukraine in the asylum seeking process. Those fleeing from Afghanistan are required to show proof of vaccination, have a physical consular interview, and most damaging, must pay a $575 administrative fee if they wish to enter on humanitarian grounds. Ukrainian refugees are required to do none of these.
The second perspective comes from the cultural attitudes of the American citizenry. A recent survey by the Washington Post shows that citizens within the U.S. are more likely to be favorable towards Ukrainian refugees, with 30% showing full support; while only 12% feel unconditional support should be offered to those from Afghanistan. Open ended responses painted bigoted and unfair judgments on Afghan refugees, citing a lack of cultural assimilation or respect for American laws as a source of mistrust.
Of course, the expedited acceptance process for Ukrainian refugees both legally and culturally does not negate the hardships they endure nor should it be used to criticize them in comparison to Afghan refugees. Both groups have suffered and should not be treated so differently by the United States government or its people.
Rather, we should take this instance to reflect on our own cultural attitudes towards others and how that feeds into our legal framework. Ukrainians share many ethnic similarities and customs as other Europeans, which more easily translates to Americans than those of Afghanistan. There’s also the xenophobic attitudes towards people from the Middle East and North Africa that have persisted strongly for the last two decades, evidenced to still be alive and strong by the survey responses which wrongfully fear an increase in refugees might lead to heightened terrorism.
While our government needs to make larger steps to accepting refugees from any country on a humanitarian basis equally, we too as its citizenry must alter our attitudes and mindset both to inform those we elect to change and to simply be good people. There is a shared value between people and its governing body, shared symbolism and ideas. Give me your “huddled masses yearning to be free” is what is written at the base of the Statue of Liberty with no distinction between people or place of origin, a symbol Americans proudly allow to represent us. It is not solely the burden to the government to live up to these symbols and ideals, but of the everyday citizen that informs them.
We cannot wait on the Biden Administration to remove restrictions on one group over another nor should we rely solely on laws and government to correct these errors when we forget our humanitarian norms. The difference in treatment between Afghan and Ukrainian people when they are one group–refugees–should serve as a signal that we are in need of evaluating ourselves not on separate levels, but as a whole.
This blog post is part of the CIMA Law Group blog. If you are located in Arizona and are seeking legal services, CIMA Law Group specializes in Immigration Law, Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and Government Relations.