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  As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its sixth day, African refugees fleeing Russian bombardments of Ukraine have found themselves stranded at various border points in Eastern Europe, especially in the Ukrainian-Polish border. Several videos and photos have littered the social media space showing Polish immigration and police officers deterring African refugees from entering Poland. Others have shown African refugees confronting the security men on why they wouldn’t be allowed a safe pass. I saw a video of Africans asking the security personnel to shoot them. It must have been that these security officers had threatened to shoot them as a way to push them back from crossing the borderline.
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According to available reports, these fleeing Africans had trekked over four to six hours to the border of Poland only to be denied access into the safe zone. Videos show Africans, especially citizens from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa, most of which are students studying in the invaded country, asking and pleading with the border officers to let them in. What is very unfortunate in this event is that Ukrainians and other European refugees were granted free entry without hassles. An European social media user quipped: “Europeans coming into Poland were made up of talents in science and technology and they were a plus to the Polish economy.” The racism was super glaring. It wasn’t subtle at all. Despite that the Nigerian government had not acted decisively in evacuating Nigerians out of Ukraine before and during the invasion as others like India and Japan had done, it intervened through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who reached out to his Ukrainian and Polish counterparts to clarify the issue. This did little or nothing as Nigerians were still harassed at various borders without entry. The same discriminatory events were experienced in Romania and Belarus. This show of racial prejudice has caused uproar in Africa and Asia. Reacting to the situation, the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, said on Monday: “All who flee a conflict situation have the same right to the safe passage under UN convention and the colour of their passport or their skin should make no difference.”  He further complained that: “From video evidence, first-hand reports, and from those in contact with … Nigerian consular officials, there have been unfortunate reports of Ukrainian police and security personnel refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains heading towards Ukraine-Poland border.” This series of racial prejudices experienced by Africans have forced historians to dig up sensitive events of the past to show how much double standards reeks our world today. It would be unimaginable to think that at one point in history, thousands of Europeans sought sanctuary in Africa during the Second World War (1939–1945). 
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The Polish migration to Africa has its roots in an event from August 1939. That was when Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin signed a non-aggression pact that divided several eastern European countries, including Poland, into German and Soviet spheres of interest.  After a few days, Germany invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Weeks later, Poland was also invaded by the Soviet Union from the east. While the Nazis conducted ethnic cleansing in the west of Poland, the Soviet Union carried on theirs in the eastern region. Hundreds of Poles, including many Jews, were sent to forced labour camps in Siberia, Kazakhstan and other remote regions in Russia. This exiling was conducted in waves. However, In 1941, the tides of history were altered when Hitler invaded Russia, forcing the Soviets to join forces with the Allied Powers to crush the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy and Japan and others.   It triggered an amnesty for the Poles in the USSR. Unable to return to war-torn Poland, some 116,000 Poles living in the Soviet Union were evacuated to Iran, which had been invaded by the Anglo-Soviet alliance. But Iran proved unable to care for such large numbers of refugees, causing the British government to move Polish civilians to other British colonies.  It was by this circuitous route that the Polish deportees arrived in Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe and other parts of British Africa to see out the rest of WWII.  Today, flipping the coin of history, Africans have found themselves trapped in a war they neither caused nor are they the belligerent. It is quite shocking how Poles have forgotten the past, how their ancestors found sanctuaries in Africa when they were fleeing the wrath of Hitler. It was quite ironic that even those who had successfully gained entry into places like Hungary were subjected to racial profiling. It is very sad how the world forgets history and even saddest that Blacks are always the victims. Featured image source: The Telegraph
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This article was first published on 2nd March 2022


Nnaemeka is an academic scholar with a degree in History and International Studies from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is also a creative writer, content creator, storyteller, and social analyst.

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