THE BLOG

How Do We Expect Refugees in Britain to Integrate When We Label Them So Enthusiastically?

26/01/2016 11:10 GMT | Updated 25/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants... does anyone really know the difference anymore? All we're sure of is that they are 'the other', those who are not us. And until recently we've been happily separated from them by distance, on one side of the newspaper us, the spectator, and on the other them, the 'refugee'. The main difference is that we have the luxury of being able to close the newspaper and carry on with our lives, and yet they must remain trapped in the role of 'the refugee'. Forced from their homes because of conflict and made to endure horrific journeys to reach Europe, their stories have become so worryingly common that we have become numb to the horror of it all.

Instead of the horror of the Middle Eastern conflicts, our focus has swiftly changed to back to Britain. The worry that refugees won't integrate within their new communities is always at the top of the long list of reasons why Britain shouldn't be accepting any more refugees. The small number that have made it to Britain are being labelled with such enthusiasm from all sides of society that it is hard to see how they can integrate when we seem to be doing our very best to distinguish them from everyone else.

Until very recently, asylum seekers in Cardiff were expected to wear coloured wristbands in order to receive food. Think of this like an all-inclusive holiday; you go abroad, you get to where you are staying and you get a little wristband so you can get claim your food during the duration of your stay. This is the same really, except when you are an asylum seeker you are not allowed to work and you are not given money, so that little wristband is all you have. And it very conveniently distinguishes you from all the locals so that everyone knows who you are. You are 'the asylum seeker', you don't have a name. Your identity is your wristband.

This made the asylum seekers so incredibly vulnerable to racial attacks and abuse because their new identity, the main piece of interest about them, is put on show for everyone to see. Categorizing people into groups by their race, their religion, where they are form or their 'status' as a refugee or any other label forced on them is degrading and discriminatory. Asylum seekers become owned by that label.

This is, of course, not the first time refugees have been subject to such discrimination. Some asylum seekers in Middlesbrough were placed in houses that had their doors painted red, a great way to ensure that their house did not feel like a home. Residents who live in these houses complained about being targeted and attacked, but how can this come as a surprise to anyone. Painting the doors on houses to ensure everyone knows refugees live there, not 'locals', is just giving the people who are itching to hurl abuse at 'the other' the go ahead. It is the complete opposite of integration, but this is not down to the refugees.

We are painting their doors red and making them wear wristbands to ensure that even when we share the same ground we still have a way to distance ourselves form them. There is no empathy, and how can there be when we reduce them to a wristband or a red door? It is simple, no one can relate to a red door. But when we are told the red door is a threat to us because it plans to steal our jobs whilst simultaneously claiming benefits, it becomes surprisingly easy to turn against it.

Make an individual an object, and it is easy to push it aside. But if we see the object detached from its label, and not as 'the other' but simply a human, empathy and solidarity are inevitable. Surely there is a way for asylum seekers to live and to claim food which doesn't discriminate against them and reduce them to a label. We should stop seeing people as 'the refugee' and distancing the problem, and instead we should view them as individuals who are not defined by labels hurled at them.