The Nigerian government has expressed its dissatisfaction with persistent accusations of mistreatment of Nigerians attempting to exit Ukraine. It told customs officers in Ukraine and other countries to treat its citizens “with decency” in a statement released Monday, February 28, 2022, in the wake of rising accusations of racism at the border.
Many Africans, especially students, are attempting to avoid the Russian invasion of Ukraine by crossing into neighboring nations, as are hundreds of thousands of others. Approximately 4,000 Nigerians are trapped in Ukraine. President Garba Shehu says there have been “regrettable reports” that Ukrainian police and security people aren’t letting Nigerians get on buses and trains to Poland because they don’t want them there.
Over the weekend, four Nigerian students shared their predicament in a video that went viral on social media. According to Mr. Shehu, there have been reports that Polish officials have rejected Nigerian nationals’ access to the country. “It’s critical that everyone is treated with decency and without prejudice,” he said. Joanna Tarnawska, Poland’s ambassador to Nigeria, dismissed accusations of racism. Everyone is treated the same way. She informed the local press. “I can promise you that some Nigerian nationals have already crossed the border into Poland, based on the information I have.” According to Ms. Tarnawska, invali”d identity credentials are accepted for crossing the border, and COVID-19 limitations have been relaxed. She noted that Nigerians have 15 days after that to exit the country.
The Ukrainian embassy in Nigeria could not be reached right away. According to an AFP count, around 400,000 Ukrainians have entered the European Union since the Russian offensive began. Nigerians aren’t the only ones affected. Hundreds of African migrants are reportedly being prevented from fleeing to safety in Ukraine. Black residents in the area claim they have been abandoned, with several resorting to Twitter in recent days to share their stories of desertion. Many countries are attempting to remove their citizens from Ukraine, but the process has been fraught with difficulties. At some point over the weekend, a Member of Parliament in Ghana said that some Ghanaian students had been attacked while they were being taken out of the country.
As the Russia-Ukraine war enters its fifth day, reports of racial prejudice continue to flood social media. While some governments have succeeded in removing their citizens from Ukraine, others have yet to come up with a comprehensive plan to do so. Nigerians have been removed from Ukraine in large numbers. Those who have not yet been evacuated, on the other hand, are not immune to racial persecution.
Cynthia Osam, a Ghanaian student, was studying in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s east, at the time of the incident. She is now completely powerless. She recounted her journey, claiming that she had only travelled for almost 12 hours before arriving at the Medyka border crossing with Poland. The sight of black people sleeping in the streets may make her despair. A Nigerian buddy told me before I arrived that “an armed guard had instructed us to wait because Ukrainians had to be let through first.” Right in front of me, I noticed a couple of buses packed with white people. Only a few Africans were eventually allowed to pass.
Asya, a Somalian medical student studying in Kyiv, had a similar experience. When she eventually arrived in Poland, she was told that “accommodation at the hotel was solely for Ukrainians.” She is now in a hotel in Warsaw, where she is safe. People in the city have been incredibly nice and inviting, in stark contrast to her experience at the border. All of the African and Asian students with whom she has communicated have been granted free housing. She described the reception as “irresistible.”
According to the Polish border force, everyone fleeing the war in Ukraine is welcome in Poland, regardless of ethnicity. Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geofrey Onyeama, said he spoke with his Ukrainian colleague, Dmytro Kuleba, and was told that Ukrainian border guards had been given orders to enable all foreigners leaving Ukraine to pass freely. Nigeria’s foreign ministry has recommended Nigerians fleeing Ukraine travel to Hungary or Romania rather than try to enter Poland. So far, 256 Nigerians have been able to get out of Ukraine. Most of them are students.