How will the Arabs in Ukraine get out?

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The nightmare of war haunts the Arab communities in Ukraine, and calls for immediate measures to mitigate the crisis, writes Ahmad Abdul-Rahman.

A war in Europe is looming. The chances of a Russian invasion of Ukraine seems likely, despite diplomatic efforts led by several European countries to defuse it. Such a dangerous situation is putting the foreign communities, including Arab communities, inside Ukraine in an extended state of anxiety.

These communities number in the thousands - university students, and workers residing in Ukraine- and are threatened by the outbreak of war. With warnings of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Washington warning Moscow of the possible consequences of such an invasion, countries are telling their citizens to leave the country immediately.

This includes some Arab countries that have called on their nationals to leave Ukraine too. This call came through official statements issued either by the Arab embassies in Kiev, Ukraine's capital - such as the embassies of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)- ​​or by the foreign ministries directly in others, including Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Bahrain, Qatar, and Lebanon.

According to a report published by the German "Deutsche Welle", the social communities of Arabs residing in Ukrainian cities are diverse. The categories of these communities range from students and residents, who have lived there for many years, settling and having families, and obtaining either permanent residence or citizenship.

Many Arab students have to think hard about what to do next. This is because their countries' embassies are demanding that they hurry to leave Ukraine, while university administrations insist they are not allowed to leave.

According to the website of the "Ukrainian Ministry of Education", there are about 70,000 foreign students in the country. The largest student community is from India, followed by the Moroccan, the Nigerian and Algerian communities. But many students are finding it hard to leave. For example, among the thousands of students from Morocco, only a few dozen have so far been able to do so. And although the embassies say that there are now planes that students can fly out on if war breaks out, air traffic to and from Ukraine may stop, making it impossible to evacuate them.

The prices of airline tickets have also skyrocketed. The ticket price is now about 1,600 euros (USD 1800) from Ukraine to some Arab countries. There are concerns that ticket prices will rise further as tensions increase. Moreover, since there are few flights available to Arab countries, many people will have to transit through airports in third countries.

Another obstacle is the restrictions related to the Corona epidemic and the travel requirements imposed by some countries. Consequently, the return of many thousands of Arab and foreign students who are inside Ukraine now is complicated further.

Moreover, not all Arab countries have an embassy in Ukraine. So while some embassies set special phone numbers for their citizens to contact them, some Arab residents are without such a service. One of the most difficult situations is that of the Tunisian community. For example, the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked members of the Tunisian community to communicate with the Tunisian embassies in Moscow (the capital of Russia) and Warsaw (the capital of Poland) to provide their personal data in order to make the necessary arrangements for their return.

Recent communications suggest a war is imminent. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that his government has received information that his country would be invaded by Russia. However, the Russian Defense Ministry has reportedly announced the withdrawal of a large part of its forces deployed on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Most Western countries have dismissed this report.

US President Joe Biden has also warned his Russian counterpart of the serious repercussions of any war. President Biden emphasised that in the past, the American and Russian people fought and made sacrifices in World War II, which he described as a "war of necessity".

There is no doubt that any attempt by Russia to invade Ukraine will have serious consequences for the entire world.

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Sunday, 25 September 2022