Red doors and red wristbands: The lot of a UK asylum seeker

Friday 05/02/2016
A house with a painted red door is seen on a terraced street in the Gresham area of Middlesbrough.

Asylum seekers have said that they are being sin­gled out in the United Kingdom, being obliged to wear red wristbands and live behind red doors, prevent­ing effective integration and open­ing them up to abuse from the local community.
British media recently report­ed that asylum seekers in Car­diff, Wales, were obliged to wear brightly coloured wristbands to re­ceive food and shelter. The policy, enforced by Clearsprings Ready Homes, a private firm contracted by the British Home Office, re­ceived criticism and comparisons to apartheid in South Africa or Nazi Germany.
Eric Ngalle, 36, who spent a month in Cardiff, said the policy opened asylum seekers like him to abuse. Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, he said: “Sometimes drivers would see our wristbands, start honking their horns and shout out of the window, ‘Go back to your country.’ Some people made terri­ble remarks to us.”
“If you take off the wristband you can’t reseal it back onto your wrist so if you want to eat you have to wear it all the time,” he said, com­paring the wristband to “garments of an outcast”.
Clearsprings Ready Homes later said that it would discontinue the practice and issue ID cards to iden­tify asylum seekers eligible for ser­vices.
A similar controversy was uncov­ered in the North Yorkshire town of Middlesbrough, after it was learned that doors of houses of asy­lum seekers were painted red, sin­gling them out for abuse from the local community, including reports of attacks and graffiti.
Asha Perera, an asylum seeker living in a red door house with his wife and two children, confirmed that the doors’ colours single them out. He told Britain’s Independent newspaper: “Everybody knows the asylum seekers in this area have red doors.”
“They shout, they knock on the door and they throw stones at the windows. It happens every night,” he said.
The red door policy was enacted by G4S, another private company contracted by the Home Office, and its subcontractor Jomast. G4S denied that doors were painted red on purpose amid a government en­quiry but has said it would repaint doors as a “precaution”.
G4S Managing Director John Whitwam told parliament that of 298 houses in Middlesbrough ac­commodating asylum seekers, 175 (59%) had red doors. The govern­ment is investigating whether simi­lar policies are in place elsewhere in the country.
These policies have raised ques­tions regarding how the British government is dealing with mi­grants at a time when Prime Minis­ter David Cameron has come under criticism for his “dehumanising” discourse about migrants and the social and media response to the growing number of people entering the United Kingdom has become increasingly hostile.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis told The Arab Week­ly: “Much of the UK government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees is based on political and administrative convenience, rather than the principle that these are vulnerable people in need of pro­tection.
“It’s totally unacceptable that ill-thought-through policies have resulted in people being identified and abused.
“It’s vital the government places the protection of asylum seekers and refugees at the heart of its pol­icy making. Equally, it must send a clear message that hate crimes of any kind will not be tolerated, and the perpetrators will be punished.”
Asylum Aid, which provides le­gal representation for people seek­ing asylum in the United Kingdom, said that the government must do more to protect asylum seekers from abuse.
“Many of the men, women and children affected by these poli­cies are fleeing persecution and, in some cases torture, perpetrated on them because of their identity, their ethnicity, religion or sexual­ity for example, so the fact that they are being marked out as other and attacked again in the country where they are supposed to be safe is totally unacceptable,” Asylum Aid Communications Officer Zoe Gardner said.
Gardner portrayed the media furore over the red doors and red wristbands as part of a greater whole. “The real issue is one of ris­ing rates of hate crime in this coun­try.
It seems to us to be no coinci­dence that reported rates of hate crime have risen by 18% in the last year, at the same time as the rhetoric surrounding refugees and asylum seekers, especially those of a Muslim background, has deterio­rated so irresponsibly in the public conversation,” she said.