Ukrainians better treated than others displaced by war, Council of Europe says

FILE PHOTO: People attend a rally over Ukraine conflict in Prague

By Catarina Demony

(Reuters) - Ukrainians who fled their homes to escape Russia's invasion have received better treatment than those displaced by other ongoing wars and emergencies, Europe's top human rights group said on Thursday, calling on member states to support all equally.

In its annual report, the Council of Europe's anti-racism commission (ECRI) said "admirable efforts" have been made to support Ukrainians since the war started in February 2022.

But it said treatment of people from Ukraine had varied depending on their ethnicity.

For instance, accommodation conditions offered to Roma with Ukrainian citizenship were lower quality than those offered to other Ukrainians in the same situation, ECRI said.

Shortly after the start of the war, the African Union said it was disturbed by reports African citizens in Ukraine had been refused the right to cross borders to safety.

Significant differences have also been observed between the quality of reception centres and services provided to Ukrainians compared with refugees and asylum seekers from elsewhere, ECRI added.

"The new normal should be to welcome all people from everywhere like Ukrainians (were welcomed)," Johan Friestedt, ECRI's executive secretary, told a news conference.

Asked if there was more solidarity towards Ukrainians because most were white, ECRI's chairperson Bertil Cottier said: "When people are more or less like you, it's always easier."

ECRI said all displaced people, irrespective of their nationality, skin colour or religion, should be offered adequate protection and support.

According to ECRI, anti-Ukrainian hate incidents have been reported but overall the public discourse remained of solidarity and support and hostile narratives, including by politicians, were more prevalent against people from other parts of the world.

There are around 6 million displaced Ukrainians across Europe.

The report also said the number of hate incidents against Muslims has increased after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

"Muslims received blame for the attack...based on stereotyping of whole communities and their perceived connections with the use of violence," ECRI said.

Several European countries have also experienced an increase in antisemitism, from hate speech, including death threats, and acts of vandalism of Jewish sites to physical attacks against Jews.

"While criticism of Israel cannot be considered per se antisemitic, calling for the murder of Jews is," ECRI said.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Barbara Lewis)