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Non-Ukrainian students call for equal protection after fleeing war

06:29 16/03/2022

Among the thousands of refugees arriving in Belgium from Ukraine are a number of students, but not all of them have Ukrainian nationality. The country was a popular destination for foreign students. As many fled following the Russian invasion, stories are now emerging of discrimination and racism that some faced as they crossed borders in search of shelter, reports Bruzz.

Ukrainian students entering most EU countries are given a special status which allows them to continue their studies in the country of reception. Non-Ukrainians, many of whom only had temporary visa to stay in Ukraine, say they are not afforded the same status and have called on Belgium to follow the example of Spain which has waved all conditions for them.

At a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, local politicians, along with representatives of several organisations supporting the refugees and a number of non-Ukrainian students who have made it to Belgium, called on the Belgian government for help and made several proposals.

"Universities such as the ULB have already introduced a special status for students with Ukrainian nationality,” said Mauricette Nsikungu Akhiet, a Socialist Party councillor from Jette. “We point out that this status should also be possible for students of other origins who have fled from the same country." The status includes temporary protection and the possibility to continue their studies in Belgium.

Coordinator Dieudonné Lakama of the non-profit organisation Change called for parliament and politicians to get involved. "Belgium wants to be an example and as the capital of the EU it is important that it takes that responsibility," Lakama said. “In Spain, all refugee students receive the same status.”

"The fact that Spain managed to make this arrangement gives me hope that these students can also be helped here in Belgium," added Jette councillor Nsikungu Akhiet.

Esther Kouablan, director of the anti-racism movement Mrax, emphasised that all students have the same rights. "Everyone has fled the same bombs in Ukraine and yet not everyone is treated equally," Kouablan said.

The students at the press conference spoke of their experiences during their escape from Ukraine. Bertine Kusala (21) and Karl Kalunga (29) both said they experienced racism as they crossed the Polish border.

"I was scolded and left out," Karl said. "While other refugees received warmth and help at the border control, I slept outside for several nights in temperatures of minus 10°." Karl studied in Ukraine for seven years and was just starting his specialisation as a paediatrician. He submitted an application to the ULB to continue his studies here, but he was refused.

Bertine, a law student, crossed the border with her family, including a sister who had fallen ill. "From the moment we arrived in Poland, we were not heard,” she said. “People didn't offer any help and told us that my sick sister wasn't their problem." Bertine is ready to support an open letter of appeal to Belgian universities and other actions "so that she and other students are not excluded again".

Written by Nick Amies