Nigeria’s government on Wednesday planned to start airlifting more than 1,000 citizens stranded in countries neighbouring Ukraine after they fled the Russian invasion.
African countries have been scrambling to help citizens living in Ukraine who crossed over borders into Poland, Romania and Hungary, especially after reports some were mistreated or blocked at the frontier.
Three jets chartered from local carriers Max Air and Airpeace will leave on Wednesday, with the capacity to bring back nearly 1,300 people from Poland, Romania and Hungary, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The first batch of evacuees are expected to arrive in Nigeria on Thursday, March 3,” Gabriel Aduda, permanent secretary for the ministry, said in the statement.
“We assure Nigerians that we are working round the clock to see that our citizens are bought back home safely.”
Nigeria’s government approved $8.5 million (7.65 million euros) to help with the evacuation of around 5,000 citizens, the state ministry of foreign affairs said.
Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa said this week the country has about 16,000 African students there, but many are from countries with no embassy in Ukraine, complicating the situation. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has 5,600 students in Ukraine, according to the ministry.
Ghana on Tuesday brought back its first group of 17 out of more than 500 students from Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.
Governments from South Africa to Democratic Republic of Congo are working to help their citizens out, some dispatching diplomats to Ukraine’s borders to aid students who complain of being blocked in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry in a Tweet on Tuesday said: “There is no discrimination based on race, skin colour or nationality, including when it comes to the crossing of the state border by foreign citizens.”
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said they were working to resolve difficulties Africans have faced at Ukraine’s borders.
“Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely. Ukraine’s government spares no effort to solve the problem,” he said on Twitter.
The African Union on Monday condemned reports Africans had been mistreated and in some cases denied the right to cross Ukraine borders to safety, saying such treatment would be “shockingly racist.”
A group of around 30 students from Cameroon who until recently had been in the central Ukrainian city of Kirovograd said it was only in the last few days that they had experienced racism in Ukraine. Before the war, they told AFP, all was fine, but after the invasion they said they were kept away from trains leaving the country.
Polish officials say everyone has been treated equally crossing the border.
As well as the nearly 680,000 refugees who have already left Ukraine for neighbouring states, an estimated one million have had fled their homes but are still inside the country.