The refugee-immigration issue is firmly wedged in our mouths like an everlasting gobstopper — someone needs to come forward and explain what’s really going on
The recent reports concerning the treatment of refugees ranging from the private security corporation, G4S, painting the doors of asylum seekers red in Middlesbrough to asylum seekers in Cardiff forced to wear red wristbands to receive food, have caused a stir among the media. Both companies have rescinded on these previous plans to associate asylum seekers with the colour red.
Reaction by members of the public has been mixed; from outrage to believing that wearing red wristbands is an efficient way to provide food and discourage others from abusing the system. Some further maintain that it is not a problem, arguing that wearing red wristbands is a small compromise compared to the sanctuary the UK provides. However, others have stated that these policies dehumanize refugees.
Interestingly, although these news items were widely circulated by the media, many people did not comprehend the significance of the stories and thought they were no more than a storm in a teacup.
ComRes poll for BBC Newsnight found that 57 per cent of people support the government’s policy for accepting a reduced number of refugees. This opinion is widely reflected in the comment sections on media sites. Understandably, with reports that more people born and bred in the UK are joining the so-called Islamic State and amidst revelations of the horrific sexual abuse in Cologne, the public are sceptical about refugees. This trend is not new. The public have become more sceptical about immigration, particularly due to the pressure on public services following the wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe. This in turn has led to the rise of UKIP and the political legitimization of an anti-immigrant stance supported by more mainstream parties, particularly the Conservatives.
The comment section allows an insight into the mind of the general public. The diversity of opinion concerning refugees reflects a broader stance concerning immigration. Some believe that refugees are a strain and a nuisance — with minor incidents being overplayed by the media. Others state that identifying refugees demonstrates the rising intolerance in society. Even readers of liberal papers argued that either it was a non-story or that red doors was not a main method for identifying asylum seekers. Moreover, when a comment sought to challenge rising intolerance, it was usually followed by other comments stating their non-comprehension of the story or deploring the fact that too much importance was being given to a story of little relevance.
The UKIP Party are fuelling the public’s distrust of immigration policies. Furthermore, the inability of the Labour and Conservative parties to drive the debate or to challenge the rhetoric of UKIP further feeds into the distrust of the people.
The public are now more polarized, with some believing that humanitarian needs should take precedence and others asserting that security threats and the strain on public services limit the advantages of immigration. Without the Conservative and Labour parties taking a more nuanced approach to immigration this polarization of public opinion will continue.