Disparities in global empathy: why some refugees are more welcome than others

The world is accustomed to the stereotypical face of the refugee. The well-worn tropes of the Black or Brown face from post-genocide Rwanda, war-torn Somalia, or gang-ridden Honduras. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in the first half of 2021, there were more than 26.6 million refugees worldwide.

The humanitarian aid organisation Save the Children reports that only about 1% of refugees receive the support they need to resettle in new countries. Most refugees end up languishing in a sort of limbo, not fully transitioning to a new life.

Refugee crises are far from novel, the world seems to shake its collective head, mutter sympathetic utterances, and invariably move on.

It has been personally stirring to witness the response to a relatively atypical refugee face. A fair skinned and straight-haired version of displacement. In late February, millions of Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes as Russian military strikes commenced across Ukraine, most notably in the city of Kyiv. Vivid images of the heartbroken throngs who were suffering unspeakable losses captured the hearts of the watching world – as they should. Empathetic responses, including the tangible kind, were swift.

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