‘White, civilised’ people: Media berated for ‘racist’ coverage of Ukrainian refugee crisis

Anchors from Al-Jazeera, CBS, others called out for racist coverage of Ukrainian refugee crisis

Picture source: Both images from AFP/collage by Minute Mirror

Blanket outrage has been observed over global media’s coverage of the Ukrainian refugee crisis in the wake of the Russian invasion, with many pointing out that anchors from notable media houses are not even being subtle with their racist reportage.

Anchors from several media outlets, including Al-Jazeera and CBS, were seen comparing refugees from the multiple conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to Ukrainian ones, who have been fleeing their country in thousands amidst the ongoing Russian military operation there since Thursday.

In one such clip that made rounds on social media, an Al-Jazeera anchor talked about refugees trying to board a train in Ukraine. He said that it was “compelling” that these refugees were “prosperous, I am loath to use the expression, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the middle that are still in a big state of war, these are not people trying to get away from North Africa, they look like any European family that you would live next door to”.

In another instance, a CBS anchor said, “But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”

Similarly, a reporter on French channel BFM TV said, “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.”

NBC News also spoke about how the refugees from Ukraine were white and relatable. An anchor said on screen, “To put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighbouring Ukraine…these are Christian, they’re white, they’re very similar to people who live in Poland.”

While some racist responses were from anchors themselves, the BBC also entertained a Ukrainian official’s ire-drawing statements. The official said, “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.”

The fact that for many white people the conflict was hitting close to home because people with relatable lives were being turned into refugees, was triggering and angering for many across the globe.

In response to the racist coverage across the board, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) put out a statement of condemnation. The statement called upon media outlets to be responsible and unbiased in their coverage, while expressing solidarity with all civilians marred by conflict worldwide. The statement noted that, “Not only can such coverage decontextualize conflicts, but it contributes to the erasure of populations around the world who continue to experience violent occupation and aggression.”

Journalist Alan MacLeod posted the many instances on his Twitter account and said that “In moments of crisis, people often show their true colors.”


A senior producer at Al-Jazeera itself was also outraged at the racist coverage, particularly directing attention towards BFM TV. She said that the world was being told through several European language speakers that those in the West did not deserve war and who constituted a “good refugee”.

A professor of international politics, Laleh Khalili, was also outraged by Al-Jazeera’s coverage and questioned scathingly whether the anchor thought that being “a refugee is an existential/ontological condition”.

Responding to the CBS anchor in specific, author Lina Alhathloul said that him using the word “civilised” was jaw dropping but it was worse that he deemed it unbelievable that the European country was the one at war.

Of all the media outlets, Al-Jazeera has issued an apology and elaborated that an anchor from Al-Jazeera English made unacceptable parallels between refugees from Ukraine and MENA region. It noted that his comments were “insensitive and irresponsible,” adding that the “professional misconduct is being dealt with”.

Another reporter, Hind Hassan pointed out that journalists and politicians weren’t the only ones displaying racist tendencies by equating Europeans to a “civilised” group of people. She said that they were echoing “systemic, institutional racism, which dehumanises the ‘other’ + is used to justify divisive policies and conflicts.”

True to Hassan’s words, troubling reports have remerged from Ukraine regarding segregationist behaviors in which Black people have been barred from boarding evacuation trains or are biasedly treated at the Polish border. Several videos have emerged on social media, which show Black people being pushed back from trains carrying refugees to safety.