UNYF stands against selective solidarity for victims of war


The Russian government’s unprovoked attack against Ukraine has permanently changed the security landscape in Europe, caused vast destruction, death and has forced millions of Ukrainians to flee their homes and their country. The UN Youth of Finland has condemned this attack in the strongest terms and continues to do so. However, this war has also highlighted long-standing issues in the ways different conflicts and their victims are talked about and treated in media and policy.

After Russia’s president Vladimir Putin escalated the war in Eastern Ukraine into a full blown invasion and the reality of a new refugee crisis in Europe became clear, there have been numerous examples of comparisons in media between Ukrainian refugees and ones coming from the Middle East and North Africa, for example. The difference in refugee policy between now and 2015 is also noticeable. Ukrainians have been welcomed into EU countries with open arms in a powerful display of solidarity with those fleeing the war. This is admirable, but we want to stress the fact that all human life is valuable, regardless of where a conflict is taking place.

The long history of the war in Ukraine is an example of the importance of global action to resolve conflicts before they escalate. Global ignorance of the war in Ukraine turned into fear and shock when Putin’s missiles hit Kyiv on 24.2., reminding us of how important conflict resolution and peace building are. This is why we want to draw attention to other ongoing conflicts and conflict resolution efforts in addition to the ones taking place in Ukraine. We stand for peace even if war seems far away from our lives. 

Large-scale conflicts have been going on throughout recent years in many different countries. Syria is still in the middle of civil war and South Sudan and Libya went through a horrible civil war during the 2010s. Yemenis suffer from famine as a result of the ongoing war as it keeps escalating, and in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, attacks and human right violations occur daily. After Taliban took control of Afghanistan, killings, malnutrition, sexual violence and forced marriage have become disturbingly commonplace. Numerous countries have low-intensity domestic conflicts, and post-conflict peacebuilding has proved to be extremely difficult. 

The discourse about these conflicts in social media is also extremely different from the way the war in Ukraine is talked about. Conflicts in non-western countries are often dismissed as internal issues that are caused by tradition, backwardness, inequality and religion. These misconceptions simplify the complex and long histories of conflicts, which often involve global power politics and colonialism. Western conflicts are rarely explained by religion, for example, even if they contain central religious aspects, such as in the conflict in Ireland in the 1970s. Instead, the political nature of the conflict is emphasized.

Armed conflict in Ukraine has once again brought problematic depictions of those subjected to war. We have witnessed a number of news channels treat war as something that belongs to certain countries and ethnicities. We strongly believe that everyone has the right to self-determination and safety regardless of their nationality and skin color and that making distinctions between “civilized”, “relatively civilized” and “uncivilized” peoples has no place in peace advocacy. These phrasings show racism towards non-Western peoples, including Slavic peoples, and assume superiority of Western cultures.

Mainstream media should cover all conflicts equally to raise global support and political action to resolve conflicts. War does not respect borders and problematic depictions of Western and non-Western countries do not prevent the violence. This is why we stress the importance of global action and support for world peace no matter where it is needed.

The imagery of these conflicts, in addition to a lack of in-depth understanding, has directly affected how we have perceived refugees. During the 2015 refugee crisis, which was not only a crisis to European countries, but also the individuals that left their families and underwent severe stress, many European countries tightened their asylum policies. Temporary humanitarian protection was removed, internal relocation was suggested to asylum seekers and country reports were updated. The quality of legal assistance and translation services were often poor, which caused numerous mistakes in the early stages of asylum processes. Migration officers failed to understand the political and social conditions in the countries that the asylum seekers came from and the threats they faced.

Many asylum seekers fell into endless loops of appeals after the Finnish asylum system failed them at the beginning. The mistakes were impossible to fix later on, and they could not get justice. A petition called Permit To Live is aiming to solve that by providing undocumented asylum seekers residency. 

When the invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022, the attitudes towards the conflict and the treatment of the refugees was completely different. This is not to say that Ukrainian refugees should not be helped because the European asylum system failed before. However, it is important to acknowledge the prejudices we have and recognize that we still have work to do in promoting equality and solidarity. We only become interested in conflicts when they directly affect us, although we should strive for peace even when the conflict seems far-away.

The UN Youth of Finland wants to highlight these issues with the treatment of different conflicts and call for fair treatment to all victims of war in policy and in public discussion. All human life is valuable – selective solidarity in Europe must end.

  1. All victims of war must be treated equally and with dignity
  2. We need to act globally to achieve peace even in far-away or low-intensity conflicts
  3. We have to educate ourselves about the realities in far-away, complex conflict scenes
  4. Media has to stop the problematic depictions of non-Western countries as “uncivilized” and “natural conflict zones”
  5. The issues with past asylum decisions must be fixed – you can sign the Permit To Live-petition via this link
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