There was public outcry last week when it came to light that residents at a privately run but government funded refugees home in Cardiff had to wear wristbands. The purpose of these wristbands was to entitle them to their three free meals a day, however some compared them to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. There was a similar reaction to the fact that the doors of refugee housing in Middlesbrough were painted red so that employees of the housing company could identify them.
These policies were clearly misguided, but the highly emotive reaction that they received seems extreme. Neither the wristbands nor the painted doors were intended to stigmatise refugees. In both cases the intention was to facilitate a scheme which helps refugees to settle in Britain. In the Judenstern such policies were expressly designed to stigmatise and demean the Third Reich’s Jewish population. The underlying issue here is not with the wristbands and doors themselves, but with a continued hostile attitude towards refugees from some members of society. We should really be criticising those who, upon seeing these signals that someone is a refugee, abuse them or their property. Disturbing examples include people shouting degrading comments and throwing eggs, stones and even excrement at refugees’ properties.
Ultimately, it was probably the right decision for both the wristband and red door schemes to be rescinded. We should, however, consider it a blight upon our society that this was the case. There should be no need to hide the fact that someone is a refugee in order to allow them to feel a sense of safety and belonging in their new community. Whatever one’s personal feelings about how many refugees we should accept in Britain, these desperate people have arrived here, and the government has accepted them. There is no scenario in which it is acceptable for anyone to take out their anger at this on the refugees themselves. Like us, these people have basic needs and desires. We take the fulfilment of these for granted, but they have travelled miles in pursuit of it. Along with food, water and shelter, this includes security and a feeling of inclusion in society. In their laudable attempts to provide the former three, government policy has allowed some members of society to deny refugees the latter two. It is sad that this is the case, and perhaps the Government ought to have foreseen such problems, but the fault does not lie with them. Rather it lies with those who chose to react in thoughtless, antagonistic and inhumane ways to the knowledge that someone was a refugee.