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Who Do We Think We Are?

Beyond the Headlines ... with Dr Yvonne Su

13 May 2022

Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to Who do we think we are? Beyond the headlines. The podcast which dissects the major global news stories about contemporary migration. I'm Michaela Benson.

Ala Sirriyeh [AS]: And I'm Ala Sirriyeh and in our day jobs we're sociologists at Lancaster University, and we work on migration. We've also got our own family migration stories that inspired our research in this area. Join us over the course of the series to hear more about our frustrations with the way that migration is so often reported in mainstream media, and how going beyond the headlines can create the space for thinking differently about migration today.

Hi everyone! Today's episode of Beyond The Headlines is about refugees at the Ukraine-Poland border. And we're going to be going beyond the dominant sort of headlines at the moment about this narrative of welcoming and compassion, to think a bit more about some of the complexities behind that. So, specifically thinking about who exactly it is who's being welcomed and who perhaps less so, and some of the reasons behind that. So, Michaela and I are delighted to be joined by Dr Yvonne Su to discuss some of these issues. Yvonne is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Equity Studies at York University in Canada. And she's a specialist on forced migration, queer migration, and migrant remittances. She's been doing some research recently in Poland, and also in Germany, looking at the reception of Ukrainian refugees, and also talking to activists and aid workers in the region. So, has a lot to say about this topic and we're really delighted to have her on our show today. Hi Yvonne.

Yvonne Su [YS]: Hi Michaela and Ala. I'm really excited to be here.

MB: So, before we get going, we wanted to actually give you a real headline, because you know, the title of the podcast is Beyond The Headlines. And today's headline is taken from The Guardian. It's a UK based newspaper. And it's a headline from the 11th of March 2022. And the title of this headline is "How European responses to Ukraine refugees differs from the UK". And actually, when you look at the URL – this really fascinates me, because it shows that the headline must have been changed – the URL says: "We must welcome them how Europe is helping Ukrainian refugees". Now, the essence of the article is as follows. It calls for the UK to follow a more benign and generous approach to refugees, such as that that's being offered by the EU and its member states. And around the same time, a colleague and I – Nando Sigona – wrote a piece for ODI's blog, where we highlighted that the UK's response to the Ukraine refugee crisis is too little, too confused and too late. But even now, at the beginning of May, we're still seeing headlines in many of the British newspapers that highlight how the UK's response continues to be inadequate. So, this morning, for example – we're recording on the 3rd of May – there was a report which shows that, despite the UK having issued a set of visas through their famous "Homes for Ukraine" scheme, they've failed to actually tell the people that they've been issued to that they have got them. What really stood out to me about the headline from the 11th of March is exactly the way in which they pit the UK response against the EU. But what we're seeing, of course, is that the UK continues not to step up. And there are all sorts of deterrence that are in the way or seem to be in the way to stop Ukrainians from ever arriving in the UK. And I think that this is where I'd like to hand over to Yvonne, to ask her what springs to mind when she hears that headline?

YS: Well, Michaela, I have to first praise you for really going beyond the headline; going straight to the URL, I didn't notice that! So, it's very insightful on your behalf, and maybe it shows the tension regarding how this response should be portrayed; how UK's response should be portrayed. And whether it should be demonised, or whether it should be seen as like something better should be done. Right? And I agree. So, when I first looked at this headline, I also thought that, like, all these countries are kind of playing politics and, you know, their various propaganda machines are at work about which portrayal is open and welcoming and which ones are not. And it also obscures the history of deterrence that the EU has had. They're talking about deterrence that's happening in the UK with these visas, but the EU itself has a lot of long history of deterrence. There is a famous $6 billion of aid that the EU gave to Turkey to keep Syrian refugees in Turkey, and not come into Europe and, quote-unquote, "invade in Europe" and "stealing jobs" and all that media-fueled negativity towards migrants and refugees. And then if you look at how much money is being given to Ukraine, the EU has committed 17 billion for Ukrainian refugees. And if you compare that to how much the EU has given to Syrians since 2011, that's 25 billion since 2011. So actually, awkwardly around 2.4 billion a year, right, 2.5 billion a year. So, the numbers in terms of money are just astronomical. But it just goes back to the different portrayals of how welcoming certain countries are, and how unwelcoming they may be. But it doesn't let us look underneath the numbers. Because what everyone is hearing is just the numbers of refugees that Poland's accepting or Germany's accepting – or the UK is not accepting, in this case – but then we don't, like you're saying, we don't look behind the headlines and into what's happening on the ground.

AS: Thanks, Yvonne. I think it would be good to hear a bit more about your research actually on this, because one of the reasons that we were wanting to interview you, actually, and to have this discussion with you today, is because you've been doing such interesting research in Poland around the Ukrainian refugees arriving there. And I think, as you was saying, that there's the loss of kind of ... so, beyond these headlines there's a lot of assumptions, and particular narratives about national responses. And so you've talked a bit there about the EU, and compared to the UK, so, the EU as a whole. But there's, there's a real kind of interesting kind of narrative and dialogue to be unpacked in terms of the Polish response. And I was really interested in what you were working on, because it connects so closely to some things that I've been looking at when I've been exploring this politics of compassion – that's what I've referred to it as. Sort of really trying to understand some of these moments, like this current moment when there's this sort of outpouring about sentiments of compassion in response to the suffering of people seeking refuge. And you have this kind of ... had a very positive response about, you know, positive narrative about certain groups' or certain individuals' responses, and that's what you've been looking at in, in Poland. So in my work, I've looked particularly at the UK and Australia, or in the US. So, I was really interested to hear a bit more from you about some of the particularities about how this is playing out in the context of Ukraine and Poland.

YS: Yeah, for sure. So, Poland has had an "open arms" kind of "open doors" policy, when it comes to Ukrainian refugees. But what we noticed in the very beginning, and what people didn't really like to talk about, was the fact that not all refugees fleeing from war were treated equally at the Polish border. And awkwardly it was by the Ukrainian officials, not necessarily by the Polish, but there was a segregation in terms of there was a line for Ukrainian refugees with Ukrainian passports, and there was a separate line, often, for a third ... refugees of colour, I guess. There's other terms that they like to use like a "foreign national", etc, but essentially, they're refugees of colour. And the reason I say that is because many on-the-ground reports were saying they weren't actually checking passports. So, it's really shocking that people are still segregated by colour. Right? And again, this was done by Ukrainian officials, it wasn't necessarily done by the Polish border officials; because, of course, the Ukrainians were controlling who gets through. And then, once they went through, the Polish were very accepting and very helpful. And especially in the early days, when a bunch of the Ukrainian refugees were going directly to the diaspora, to their relatives. So, that's something that we don't talk about as much, is that one of the reasons Poland didn't necessarily have refugee camps – and they still don't really have refugee camps, they call them "reception centres". So, that's another "behind the headlines" type of thing, where you just swap a different label on it; it doesn't really mean that it's completely different. Right? So you've got these refugee camps at the border, who were unfortunately mainly for people of colour, who didn't have relatives, at least in the initial days, to go to, and we did hear reports of people being treated quite differently, or there we had ... I talked to activists on the ground that shared that there were people giving rides, and unfortunately, white Ukrainians were preferred, or there were stories of foreign nationals being basically told that they shouldn't get on in this van, or people who were providing transport being told that they shouldn't take people who are non-white Ukrainians, because then they might get in trouble. You know, there was a lot of scaremongering around that, which is extremely unfortunate. But when you look at the bigger picture, there are definitely conversations about compassion that needs to be had, because Poland has historically been – at least in the last 10 years when the law-injustice right wing party has been in power – quite anti-immigrant and quite anti-refugee. And when I've spoken to academics on the ground about this, it was really interesting, because they'll say that "we're not anti-immigrant, we're just anti a certain type of immigrants". They've actually said these words, it does resonate, because they'll say "we've had immigrants", right? "We have Ukrainian immigrants, they've been here of approximately 1 to 2 million", right, "after the annexing of Crimea", right? "We've had other immigrants from the past, but we've sent immigrants out; we just prefer white Christian immigrants, or Catholic immigrants." Right? So, it's very interesting that there's this very complicated conversation about compassion, because compassion is reserved, mainly for people that look like them. Right? And it gets even more confusing, because Ukraine and Poland has had a history of conflict. Right? If you look back in their history, there are several times that they've had a lot of conflict, and the Ukrainians have killed Polish people. And I'm sure Polish people have killed Ukrainians, you know; because it's Europe, and there's a lot of war. So, once you start digging into it deeper, it gets very messy. But on the surface of things, there's lots of things going on with race and religion that make the refugee crisis and the handling of it less straightforward than just the very positive, open-arms, "everyone is welcome". And, on my recent trip, just last week, to Poland, there were people already kind of sharing that compassion and generosity is running out. As there are issues with housing, there are issues with concerns about inflation and the economy overall. And with a lack of support from the government. So, a lot of people who are opening their homes and providing support to Ukrainian refugees feel that the government is not really doing their part. So, so much of it is burden on them and their own resources and their own generosity. So yeah, it's very complicated.

AS: Yeah, there's a lot to unpack there. I think even just that last point, you know, about the kind of time-limited nature of compassion, is this sort of, sometimes quite optimistic sense that the sort of the answer to hostility, the answer to deterrence is, you know, the opposite of that is going to be compassion, and that this is the way forward. But it is, like you're finding now, that is so time-limited. It's, you know, we saw that in response to the refugee crisis in 2015. It was, it was not that things sort of changed forever and everyone was so welcoming it, you know. There are, as you say, there are all sorts of complexities that then come out. And, you know, as you've mentioned about housing and funding and all sorts of things that, you know, relying on a compassionate loan is not necessarily the answer that sometimes put forward as being.

YS: Absolutely.

AS: I think there's something also very interesting there, when talking about some of the language as well. There's kind of, are we talking about "refugee camps" or "reception centres"? Or sometimes you see that kind of flip between "reception" and "detention" centres and ... And then also about the kind of language of who these people are? Are they "refugees"? Are they "immigrants"? Are they ... And this is something else that I heard also at the time, about people saying "well, you know, Ukrainians", and you know, "they're not ... we're not talking about refugees here, they're like us, theyr'e ...", you know, that they're, they're "like us", they ... they're "part of our family"; they're kind of ... "we're the same people". So, it's really interesting reminding people then of some of that – that history – that then gets sort of reworked and retold in this context.

YS: But it is very confusing, because they're right, they're technically not refugees.

AS: Yeah.

YS: I think most people understand them to be refugees, because they're fleeing from war, and they're fleeing from violence. But the EU's Temporary Protection Directive, that's what it is. And under this directive, they don't actually apply for asylum.

AS: Mm-hmm.

YS: So, it can get very confusing.

AS: What do you think? I mean, this sort of narrative of compassion and humanitarianism ... What do you think that this obscures? In a sense, what is it used to – whether deliberately or less so – you know, what is ... What does it cover up?

YS: I think it covers up what I was trying to say before, like, Poland's history – and other countries' history – of being anti-immigrant or anti-refugee, or having discrimination against certain groups. Because, in a crisis like this, they don't want you to talk about anything critical. A common response to my articles from some people – and I guess, you know you've made it when you start getting hate mail – is that I'm anti-polish and that, you know: "it's a war, we shouldn't be talking about these things", right? "We should only be caring about the people fleeing from war." Which is ironic because there are only certain types of people fleeing from war that are being prioritised, and this is what I'm trying to get at. Right? So, actually proving my point that we shouldn't be discriminating against, you know, refugees of colour just because they're of colour. Right? But I think that's the issue is that these really positive narratives of compassion of "open arms", "open doors", "open borders" really obscures and almost, like, does away with all the other issues that have existed previously – like I mentioned earlier – all the funds spent in deterrence, all the funds keeping asylum seekers where they are, or worse pushing them back. Which was what happened last week, when we heard about Frontex agents; the agency chief resigning because a report came out of almost 1000 known illegal push backs at sea. And I'm not sure if you read this, but there was one harrowing story of somebody that made it to the Greek islands and on Greek soil, and Frontex took them and put them back on a boat in the Agean Sea.

AS: It's horific.

YS: Right? So, I don't even know what to call that. Right? It's not even a push-back. You're literally just, like, taking somebody who's made it and is due asylum process, and put them back into the middle of the sea. Right? So, so, I think it obscures all these other things that have been happening historically, and in a weird way, allows countries to erase history and erase any kind of wrongdoing that they've done. And, again, allows Poland to kind of have this narrative of like: "Well, look, we're not anti-immigrant, look at all the Ukrainian refugees that we welcome." And they're not going to talk about how previous waves of Ukrainian migrants – because they weren't refugees, they were migrants after the Crimea Crisis – were treated like second-class citizens, right? If we actually look at it, many of them had to take low-income low-skilled jobs – as Uber drivers in the gig economy or as cleaners – because those were the jobs that were available to them. And the Polish didn't necessarily treat them that kindly. But all that history is gonna get rewritten. Right? And they can claim to be a very welcoming, very pro-refugee, pro-immigrant country. And I think that's the danger of these narratives of compassion and humanitarianism that we're seeing – again, not just in Poland, but across all these countries. Now look at Hungary. Right? And especially with my work of it, on LGBT asylum seekers and refugees, right? Hungary is very anti-LGBT. And unfortunately, we do you have LGBT refugees and asylum seekers that have had to go there, just as a result of the route that they had to take.

MB: We're gonna come back to that in a little bit. But, I mean, I'm really struck of on by, by what you're saying around this kind of propaganda, almost, as propaganda by which states kind of profess that they are, you know, the ... Well, I'm gonna use the terms that the British state is using to define itself at the moment, which is a "fair and generous approach to migration". And they give all of these examples, which, as you've said, kind of rewrite history. So, they talk about how, historically, for example, they were, you know ... they opened their doors to the Ugandan Asians, who – not incidentally – were British citizens essentially, who they were forced to accept by international conventions when they were kind of pushed out of Uganda. And they also use the same narrative to talk about their "generosity" towards the Hong Kongers, through the Hong Kong BNO visa. And they uphold these two examples as evidence that, really, they are "fair" and "generous". And that all of those people, like us, who criticise them for not being that, you know, we've got it, we've just got it "radically wrong". So I'm really struck by the fact that it's so reminiscent of what's been happening in the UK. But also, I really liked the reminder that it isn't just happening in the UK, that, you know, we're seeing similar things happening on the edge of Europe. And of course, those push-backs that you talked about in the Aegean are also things that we've been discussing in the UK because of the recent Nationality and Borders Bill and the channel crossings. And so, actually, I think that there's only been one day or something in the last probably about 60, where we haven't actually heard about people who have arrived on British shores, through these channel crossings. As like a daily report, almost, of the numbers of people who are coming that way it's kind of evidence that they need to have the authority to deter people by pushing them back across the channel to France. But I wanted to pick up a little bit on that kind of the importance of that longer backstory. You've been really, really clear in your writing that, you know, we do need to remember, we need to kind of uphold the memory of how Ukrainians in Poland have been received historically, and how that relates to racism, and anti-immigrant sentiments. But I don't think that most people will be aware of that backstory. So, I wondered if you could give us a better sense of that context.

YS: Yes. So, there are about 1 to 2 million Ukrainians in Poland that mostly came after the 2014 Crimea annexing, and they came as migrants, not necessarily as refugees, because they, they arrived more because Ukraine's economy was heavily negatively affected as a result of the conflict. And yeah, they took up jobs – like in most countries that take immigrants in – that were lower-skilled and lower-wage. And I think Poland at the time did, again, see themselves as doing them a favour. So, that's where things get complicated. Because if you take immigrants in, who are doing jobs that your citizens don't want to, you're doing them a favour. Right? And I don't have the stats on me, but I did recall reading that the Ukrainian migration of 2014 was a big boost to the economy. Right? So, there will be a big boost again to the Polish economy this time around as well. So, I think another thing that's happening, going back to early conversation, is that when we talk about compassion, we overly focus on humanitarianism and charity – because this is what a lot of refugee situations or crises and host communities characterise it as "charity", right? – even though they're legally, they are actually legally bound to take 1,000 seekers and etc. What the danger is, is that we just don't have important conversations in general; critical conversations in general. Right? Like, what's happening with the UK. This is a ... this is ripe for these types of conversations, to say that, in Europe, on one hand, we're welcoming certain types of refugees, and then in the UK, on the other, we're literally sending them back to a different country on a plane. And I hear there're private jets now, because airlines have refused to come on board. But do you know what I mean? Like, there's so, there's so many important conversations. And it's as we're reaching a critical juncture to kind of almost take a stab at reworking all this. But when we just positively talk about it, and we say "there are no problems with how well we're doing", we also silence critics like us; but also people – normal citizens – who may have a Ukrainian family and are struggling, or citizens who may have taken Syrians in and felt that for Afghans and felt that they had a very different experience, but don't feel empowered, or don't feel there's an avenue to speak out. Because that's just poor form, or nobody wants to hear it right now. So, I actually think we're missing, we're missing out on this opportunity to have this conversation in the UK, in Europe, and of course, around the world. Yeah, I think that comes up very clearly in what you've written about, about Poland that that sort of ... yeah, the kind of silent thing of the more difficult questions within this kind of broadest celebratory narrative. Yeah, and I think ... And can I just bring in Belarus? Because, I know I'm afraid to mention that, and that's a very clear example. Because many people will remember that, last year, the Belarusian dictator, right, brought, like literally, flew in a bunch of Afghan Syrian and some North African refugees or asylum seekers and migrants to the border of Poland, and – with, like, holding guns, because there's like video footage of them holding guns – kind of like forced them to cross and throw rocks and kind of cause a lot of trouble, right, but the Polish government would not let them pass. Right? So, they engaged in push-backs, they engaged in firing tear gas and water cannons at these asylum seekers? Yes, there was a wider geopolitics, right, of the Belarusian dictator trying to cause trouble as a result of sanctions, etc. Yes, so, that's important to highlight, that there is a difference in these situations. But it's important to contrast the two because it was only a year apart, right? And you've got certain refugees who are having water cannons and tear gas thrown at them, and push back and stuck in a freezing force. Right? There are no bathrooms, there are no facilities in this forest where they're forced to be. And they can see the Belarussian guards with guns, pointed at them, directing them to do things, and there is no compassion. Right? Literally, for these humans being used as pawns in geopolitics, no compassion at all. And actually, the Polish government spending a lot of money – I don't wanna ... I don't know what the amount is, maybe millions – to build a border fence along Poland and Belarus. Again, like, it's just really mind-boggling, these kinds of situations, and when I was on the ground, people said that nobody wants to talk about that contrast. Right? I'll bring it up and they'll be like: "Oh, but that was different; we don't want to talk about it, that was different." Right? So yeah, we're missing huge opportunities to have these discussions.

AS: Please do. It's a very particular telling of the story with kind of, yeah, pockets of, of memory loss, kind of very willful memory loss of themes in places. I just wanted to come back to what you said. You saying this bit before, about the experiences of LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum, and I think because this has not been ... this has been very, very minimally covered in some of the reporting on refugees coming out of Ukraine. So, it'd be really interesting to hear from you a bit about some of the issues that they've been facing in border crossings and in reception in Poland, in Germany and elsewhere.

YS: Yes, so, last week, we interviewed LGBT activists who are helping LGBT refugees in Poland and in Germany, and over Zoom, we got to speak with some in Ukraine as well. So, it was very interesting conversation that emerged. And usual challenges that people face – you know, LGBT Ukrainians face – in the very beginning, is really just with their documents. A lot of trans asylum seekers do not have the, the gender that they prefer on their birth certificates or on their passports. It's very challenging to get the right gender for anybody going through a transition in Ukraine. It was only recognised in 2017. And in order to get that change, you have to go through a lot of psychological exams. You have to go through a lot of therapy, and it's seen as a medical disorder. So, imagine, like having to go through that whole process and then admitting that you have a medical disorder. And this is also how people are exempt from military service, etc. So not only is it challenging to get the right documents, to reflect the gender that you identify with, it's also difficult to have them already when you're trying to flee. So, there were issues with people that having all the documents, but in general, there were lots of issues with Ukrainian border guards refusing them at the border, or simply saying, "you're a man, go fight". And an activist told us that one trans man actually got told to their face: "You've been trying to be a real manl. If you want to be a real man, go fight."

MB: I mean, what you're referring to there is the restriction on men of a particular age leaving the country? That's right, isn't it? Just to be really clear.

YS: Yeah, so, the martial law. Yes. The martial law that requires 16 to 60-year-olds to stay in the country. They don't necessarily have to fight, but they need to stay in the country. And the conversation that's being had ... So they're, they're having trouble leaving, there are also reports of Ukrainian border guards and officials strip-searching them to find out their identity or their "real" identity or searching for Adam's apples, etc. So, extremely invasive practices that are taking place. So, as a result, that is acting as a deterrent. These kinds of horror stories are making it so trans folks, non-binary folks and LGBT in general feel that they don't have a choice but to stay in the country, because they don't want to go through that only to be turned back. Right? Because there are that many people that haven't been successful, and when or if they have been successful, unfortunately, many of them had to swim across a river. So there's many ... there are several stories of trans women who've had to swim across a 60-metre river that separates Poland and Ukraine. And this was back in March, right, early March, where it's still quite cold. So, freezing temperatures and they're in a forest as well. So, just very dangerous routes that LGBT have had to take as a result of these kind of policies or just brutal treatment at the border, at the hands of border guards. But what this is, is part of a wider conversation that's been very difficult within the Ukrainian LGBT community about whether they should stay in fight, or whether they should flee. And it's very ideological. Because, on one side, the argument is "you've been fighting for equality, you've been saying that you're the same, you should deserve everything to be equal, and yet, you're going to go leave and say that you should be treated differently?" Right? And there's a narrative that, if they stay and fight along their country men, then at the end of this, there'll be seen as equal. And then, the flip side of this is that we cannot ignore that LGBT, particularly trans folks and non-binary, have faced specific vulnerabilities, right? They need hormone treatment. Some of them are probably already going through various treatments for surgery. Right? And those drugs and those treatments are no longer available. The care that they usually get have is no longer available. And then there's a real threat that, if Russia is successful, LGBT people, especially trans folks, will be the first that are gonna get rounded up and executed. So, those are some real vulnerabilities and fears that do make them special or unique or different, that need to be accounted for. But you have these two warring groups. This NGO was in these influencers that are having this conversation. And I think a lot of LGBT people are just simply trapped in between, and they don't know what they should do. Whether they should stay in the country and fight for themselves, for equality, for the country; or whether they should kind of have the fears of what could happen to them lead the way and fleet. And then a very awkward geopolitical aspect of this is that Russia has used LGBT as a pawn to say "look, the West", right, "is targeting traditional values in Russia, via LGBT", right? "And now, look, they've all flee to the West." You know, there's so many complicated things at play. And again, the real people are just kind of internally trapped, internally displaced, and it's hard to know what to do. The external NGOs, the foreign NGOs, I've spoken to also don't know what to do, because they're being told by Ukrainian NGOs to back off, some of them. And they stopped trying to evacuate our people.

MB: I mean, it just opens up, it just shows how complicated all of these things are. And of course, that's a headline ... well, it's never a headline, is it?

YS: No.

MB: When it comes to the case of LGBT communities and individuals. And, you know, you've already, you've demonstrated so many different ways – both in your writing and in what you've just said there – how that access to even leaving is, is uneven, in so many ways – both from the racism through to the LGBT individuals and communities. What the picture that you've painted there of what's happening on the Ukraine-Poland border, and indeed the Ukraine-Belarus border, is about how differentiated those processes of exclusion are, in ways that really do counteract or contradict that narrative that we got of the EU as, as kind of, you know, trailblazing when it comes to thinking about, to thinking about the "reception" – I've got inverted commas around that – of refugees from Ukraine. And I should just be really clear of the way that different EU member states are doing that as well. So, I'm wondering, you know, and kind of coming towards a close, what do you think your takeaway messages are for how people could think differently about those headlines around the Ukraine refugees?

YS: I think people need to be aware that there's a lot of propaganda. And that, because a lot of the focus has been on Russia, Russian propaganda – and even on Ukrainian propaganda on how Zelenskyy is "doing great" and he's a "star", and he's showing up on award shows and zooming in everywhere – but we need to remember that all these other states have their own propaganda machines running. Right? And that propagandas will show up in the headlines. So that's why it's really important to read behind, between these headlines; in the URL. Right? And have a deeper think into what is actually happening. What do they want us to think versus what is actually happening on the ground? And of course, what they don't want us to think? What's what they're trying to make invisible? I think it's always very, very important.

AS: Thank you so much, Yvonne. I think this is what resonates for everything that you've discussed today. I think is the way in which kind of national stories are being told or remade through this particular context as well. And then, of course, what this actually means for people on the ground who are suffering in this moment? What these kinds of responses then mean for them? And I think – definitely I mean, for me, certainly – that one of the takeaway messages that I'm getting from this is just the importance of historicizing some of the, some of these stories and events; and really, quite shockingly, how quickly it seems that certain aspects of the story are forgotten. So, thinking particularly about, there, you're Belarus example. So, I think this is kind of where we finish off for today. Thank you so much for joining us. It's been absolutely fascinating. And I just wanted to ask if you'd like to share with people where they could find out a bit more about your research and read some of the articles that you've been publishing on this?

YS: Yeah, so I'm very active on Twitter. The handle is @suyvonne, s-u-y-v-o-n-n-e, and then my website is just

AS: Thank you very much Yvonne, and thanks everyone for listening!

MB: You've been listening to who do we think we are beyond the headlines, a podcast series produced and presented by Ala Sirriyeh and Michaela Benson. Thanks to Emma Houlton and Andy proctor at Art of Podcast for production and post production support, and to George Kalivis for our fantastic cover art, and much more. If you like what you've heard, follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. Check out our show notes for further resources, transcripts and our socials. And you can also find us at That's all for now, but we'll be back with another headline next month.

[End of transcript]

Countries around the world have been quick to crow about the provisions they are putting in place to welcome those displaced by the war in Ukraine. Yet, all might not be what it seems.

In this first episode of Beyond the Headlines, hosts Dr Ala Sirriyeh and Professor Michaela Benson are in conversation with Dr Yvonne Su, York University to examine what the headlines announcing a warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and the UK shield from view. We explore how even among those displaced by the war, not everyone has equal access to leaving Ukraine. Race, gender and sexuality can all shape people’s fate at the border, leaving some with only unsafe routes out of the conflict-ridden country.

And we consider the narrative that presents Ukrainians as ‘good refugees’, within the wider context of a politics of migration that otherwise casts many of those seeking new lives abroad as illegitimate and underserving, and within states that have readily deployed deterrents and push backs against migrants.

You can access the full transcripts for each episode over on the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit website.

In this episode we cover…

  1. Ukraine war and refugees
  2. Borders and inequalities
  3. ‘Good refugees’

What everyone is hearing is just the numbers of refugees that Poland's accepting or Germany's accepting, or the UK is not accepting, in this case, but then we don't like you're saying we don't look behind the headlines and into what's happening on the ground.

— Dr Yvonne Su

Find out more

Find Yvonne on Twitter or her website

Read her writing on Poland’s border propaganda and anti-immigration sentiments; the good, bad and ideal’ refugees; and how standard humanitarian responses lead to LGBTQ and trans refugees falling between the cracks.

Our headline ‘How European response to Ukraine refugees differs from UK’ The Guardian, 11 March 2022

Ala’s thoughts on he politics of compassion and the channel crossings

Michaela’s writing (with Professor Nando Sigona) about the UK’s response to and provisions for Ukrainian refugees.

For something a bit different, we recommend this episode of Academic Aunties which features Yvonne in conversation with Dr. Ethel Tungohan about Turning Red.

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Active listening questions

  • List 3 inequalities that are present in the global response to the Ukraine war
  • What role does language play in the discourse of accepting Ukranian refugees?
  • Has this changed how you view media headlines? how/how not?

View all active listening questions