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 Ukrainian refugees from 2022, crossing into Poland

Ukrainian refugees from 2022, crossing into Poland. Attribution:, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

March 9, 2022

Talking and Teaching About the Refugee Crisis in Ukraine and Beyond


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By Adam Strom, Director of Re-Imagining Migration

Note: Talking and Teaching about the Refugee Crisis in Ukraine and Beyond is designed to help students make sense of the refugee crisis brought on by the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. The teaching ideas will help learners reflect on what they see, feel, think, and wonder while building habits for deeper learning, inquiry, and exploration of migration. We include resources from the Associated Press, NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times, France 24, NBC, the Daily Show, and the World Economic Forum.


As of Tuesday, March 8, over 2 million Ukrainians have fled their country since February 24, seeking safety from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While many Ukrainian refugees have received a warm welcome and support from Europeans, there have been reports that many Black residents of Ukraine have encountered discrimination that made it harder for them to leave the country. Many people have questioned why people have rallied to support Ukrainian refugees, while refugees from the Middle East, Africa or Afghanistan have, for the most part, not received the same warm reception. Laurel Wamsley of National Public Radio addresses this topic in her article “Race, Culture and Politics Underpin How—or If—Refugees Are Welcomed in Europe.”

On the March 3 edition of “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah reflected on these issues in his opening monologue.

Remote video URL

A Place to Start

While many questions from our learning arc can help to illuminate the stories of Ukrainian refugees, you might consider focusing on these questions:

  • How do refugees and asylum seekers navigate life with an ambiguous and uncertain status?
  • What are the rights of people with ambiguous status seeking to flee their homes? What should those rights be?
  • What are our moral and ethical responsibilities toward people on the move with ambiguous status?

Slow Down

A fast-moving news story can leave people feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Consider beginning reflection on the situation by using images to humanize the story, build empathy and connection. You can find a slide-show of images you can use with your students here, or you can use news images of Ukraine refugees that you have found in the news and are appropriate students ages to do the next few activities.

Choose one or several images

You might start a discussion with the entire class focusing on one image from the collection, or you might have students identify an image that speaks to them and then share it (along with the reason behind their choice).

Interpreting, Analyzing and Reflecting

Consider using the see-feel-think-wonder thinking routine from Project Zero to structure reflection on the images. Psychologist Paul Slovic suggests that when we are exposed to news of massive suffering, it often leads to psychic numbing. Journalist Brian Resnick explains, “As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases. This happens even when the number of victims increases from one to two.”

Veronica Boix-Mansilla has been piloting a new Project Zero/Re-Imagining Migration thinking routine called “Seek to See” that is intentionally designed to humanize those who are vulnerable to dehumanization. Dr. Boix Mansilla writes that Seek to See is a “routine to nurture a disposition toward proactive empathic perspective-taking, de-stigmatization, and recognition of dignity.” We outline the thinking routine below.

Seek to See

Take some time to look closely at one photograph with the information you have, then explore the following ways of seeking to see. Now focus on one individual and consider:

  • Multiple feelings. What might be this person’s various feelings in this situation?
  • Strength. What might be this person’s strengths, cultural richness and power?
  • Connections. What might be some ways in which we connect as human beings?
  • Human dignity. What words would I choose to honor your humanity and make you shine?
  • Reflection. Take a moment to reflect about your experience seeking to see. Did you notice any shifts in your thinking, perspectives or feelings? Did anything surprise you? What questions do you have? How did this exercise influence the way you think about the stories of the people trying to leave Ukraine?

International Law

Three articles in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights speak to migration:

Article 13
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Article 14
  1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from  persecution.
  2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising  from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 15
  1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right  to change his nationality.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an aspirational document and is not legally binding. However, several international treaties and conventions have since enshrined the values of the declaration in international law, including the 1951 Refugee Convention (which has come to include the 1967 Protocol). Here are articles 31 and 32 of the refugee convention:

Article 31

refugees unlawfully in the country of refugee

  1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
  2. The Contracting States shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized or they obtain admission into another country. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period and all the necessary facilities to obtain admission into another country.
Article 32


  1. The Contracting States shall not expel a refugee lawfully in their territory save on grounds of national security or public order.
  2. The expulsion of such a refugee shall be only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with due process of law. Except where compelling reasons of national security otherwise require, the refugee shall be allowed to submit evidence to clear himself, and to appeal to and be represented for the purpose before competent authority or a person or persons specially designated by the competent authority.
  3. The Contracting States shall allow such a refugee a reasonable period within which to seek legal admission into another country. The Contracting States reserve the right to apply during that period such internal measures as they may deem necessary

What/who is a refugee? And, what/who is an asylum seeker?

Refugeesare people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones. Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

An asylum seeker is someone whose request for sanctuary has yet to be processed. … National asylum systems are in place to determine who qualifies for international protection. However, during mass movements of refugees … it is not always possible or necessary to conduct individual interviews with every asylum seeker. …These groups are often called “prima facie” refugees.

These definitions are drawn from

Questions for reflection:

  1. Are there any conditions under which you feel national rules about immigration can be broken or ignored? If so, when?
  2. How should governments evaluate who can qualify for asylum? What factors should be considered?
  3. How should we decide which refugees we should admit?
  4. Should communities and states get to decide if they want refugees to be settled in their communities?

Inquiry and understanding about the refugee crisis

Select a set of questions from our learning arc to guide an inquiry about the range of responses to the escalating refugee crisis.

You might use the articles we have curated below to create an inquiry using this question: “What are our legal, moral and ethical responsibilities toward people on the move with ambiguous status?”

Media Literary Connections: It is helpful to consider whose voices are being heard in the media we consume. Consider using the “By whom, about whom, for whom?” routine to make power and positions in the texts we consume visible.


Encourage students to reflect on the similarities and differences in the treatment of different groups of refugees. Ask them, “What is similar and different in the responses to refugees from Syria, Africa or Afghanistan?” It would be easy to let opinion substitute for the facts. Ask students to cite evidence to support their opinion. Give them time, either in class or for homework, to research. Our friends at the News Literacy Project have useful tools to help students identify credible online resources.

After students have learned about the similarities and differences in the treatment of refugees, ask students to consider how they explain the differences in the way people are responding to Ukrainian refugees as compared to others, particularly, recent non-white refugees in Europe.

Taking action

As we noted earlier, reading about all that is going on can often leave people feeling overwhelmed. While we might have empathy toward the people we are learning about, that empathy may not lead to action when we do not know how and where to begin to make a positive difference. The routines linked below are not designed to tell students what to do, how to feel, or how to act; instead, they help students identify the issues they feel are most important and would like to act upon.

In particular, these Project Zero thinking routines are designed to help learners:

    • Have a sense of belonging to a learning environment and to society and an inclination to participate regarding issues or situations involving human migration.
    • Be sensitive toward opportunities to act constructively in groups, contexts, and relationships and a desire and inclination to make a difference.
    • Employ understanding, voice, and capacity for influence to foster well-being among immigrant and host communities to strengthen civic life and democratic institutions toward inclusive and sustainable societies.
    • Reflect on actions to employ a repertoire of civic engagement tools to take informed and compassionate action (learn from the stories of the past, examining prior attempts, engaging others, planning, executing).
    • Nurture an identity and sense of self-efficacy as a change-maker in more intimate and broader spheres.

Stay in touch

Let us know if you think the ideas we have discussed here are helpful. If you have any suggestions, reach out to Re-Imagining Migration through DM (direct message) on social media.

Note: This post is re-published from Re-Imagining Migration. You can access the article here.

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Re-Imagining Migration'smissionis to advance the education and well-being of immigrant-origin youth, decrease bias and hatred against young people of diverse origins, and help rising generations develop the critical understanding and empathy necessary to build and sustain welcoming and inclusive com

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