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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2022 The anti-racist fight for refugees is key to women's liberation today

SABBY DHALU, Stand up to Racism co-convener, argues that the treatment of refugees from Ukraine exposes the inherent racism in Europe, when African, Arab and Asian refugees in the same region face fences and hatred

THIS YEAR’S International Women’s Day takes place in the midst of war, a Covid public health crisis, a worsening cost of living crisis and yet more racism. Much of this disproportionately impacts on women and black communities.

As with wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Sudan, the government is failing in its duty to provide sanctuary for refugees. Less than two weeks into the Ukraine war, more than 1.5 million refugees have left Ukraine. Already over 1 million have sought refuge in Poland and 250,000 have fled to Moldova, Europe’s poorest country.
 
Yet the British government has shamefully not implemented a refugee scheme to allow Ukrainians to seek asylum in Britain. Instead, the government has extended its complex and woefully inadequate visa scheme, failing to heed the calls on social media to “waive visas not flags.”
 
The final number and composition of refugees from the Ukraine war remains to be seen, but reports suggest the majority of refugees fleeing Ukraine are women and children. Studies over the last two decades show women and children are increasingly becoming the casualties of war.
 
We must say loudly and clearly, Ukrainian and other refugees fleeing war, persecution, climate change and poverty must be welcomed in Britain. That means we must campaign to scrap the Nationality and Borders Bill which criminalises asylum-seekers and undermines the right to seek asylum.
 
The House of Lords voted to strike out clause 9 of the Bill which allows the government to strip away the citizenship of people whose parents were not born in Britain on spurious grounds. This is a huge victory, but we cannot be complacent and the fight goes on.
 
The Ukraine war has also revealed deep-rooted racism in Europe. Many African and Asian women have documented the racism they have been met with as they have tried to flee Ukraine. Elizabeth Iloba, a Nigerian medical student, reported that she was told to wait and go back by Ukrainian guards as she tried to catch trains to leave Ukraine.
 
Another Nigerian medical student, Jessica Orakpo, who is pregnant, told the BBC that Ukrainian officials told her she could not board a bus to Poland and that black people must walk. Sikh Human Rights reported that a Sikh woman with her three-year-old daughter was beaten on a train in Ukraine and said that she was punched and kicked and told the train was only for Ukrainians.
 
Many of the African and Asian people in Ukraine simply want to return safely to their home countries. For those managing to escape to Poland the racism has been the same. African men were attacked in Poland after a racist hoax online falsely claiming Africans had raped Polish women went viral, according to Polish authorities.
 
Many have contrasted the Polish government’s approach to Ukrainian refugees to those fleeing Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and Ethiopia that have been stuck on the Polish-Belarusian border. A militarised, barbed-wire fence was erected to prevent these refugees from reaching Poland.
 
In addition, a lot of the mainstream media coverage of the war has used racist language, expressing shock that civilised Europeans with blonde hair and blue eyes are being forced to become refugees.
 
On top of the horrors of war, African and Asian people are having to endure the added trauma of racism. In 2020 the whole world said “black lives matter,” so the international community must stand up to and stop this horrific racism — we must also fight for better rights and against racism towards refugees and migrants when they arrive in Britain.
 
The charity Maternity Action, which supports refugee and migrant women, says the health of pregnant women and their babies is being put at risk due to fears around NHS charging, with some trusts demanding fees up front and wrongly charging those who are exempt for maternity care. According to the charity, legally there should be no up front charging for maternity care. Every woman is entitled to such care regardless of whether or not they are chargeable.
 
Black British women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white women. This is a shocking statistic and a reflection of institutional and structural racism.
 
The cost-of-living crisis is disproportionately affecting women, especially single Bame women. On average women earn less than men and Bame people earn less than their white counterparts, which means black women are the hardest hit.
 
Cutting the £20 per week increase in tax credits has disproportionately impacted women and Bame communities. The Women’s Budget Group has found no region is affordable for women renting on their own, but men on an average salary can afford every region except London. This is set to worsen in April when energy bills skyrocket and council tax increases.
 
Covid cases have shot up in the last week since the government removed the self-isolation requirement. The Office for National Statistics has found that between December 8 2020 and June 12 2021 people from all ethnic minority groups continued to have higher Covid death rates than the white British population.
 
As the government chooses to attack the health and the living standards of the many, it uses racism to divide, distract and scapegoat for its failures. Racism makes life so much harder for Bame women.
 
This International Women’s Day let us pledge to march against racism marking UN Anti-Racism Day in London and Glasgow on Saturday March 19 and in Cardiff on Sunday March 20. This is part of an international World Against Racism day of action and could not be more timely.

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