Middlesbrough was the centre of a national outcry recently when it was revealed that asylum seekers living in the town had allegedly had all of their front doors painted red. It was claimed that this had led to some migrants being an easy target for abuse and vandalism. Tside reporters Amani Ibrahimi and Ryan Welsh took to the streets to talk to those affected.
They had come to Britain to escape the horrors of life in their own country with some ending up in a small North-East corner of England known as Middlesbrough.
The majority have been welcomed with open arms but for some the experience of life on Teesside took an unpleasant turn after they were allegedly given santuary in homes all painted with red doors.
It was claimed that this made them victims of racial abuse and vandalism and residents of Union Street and Gresham Road in the town have had eggs, stones and dog excrement thrown at their houses, as well as right-wing slogans scratched into their doors.
The homes, owned by Stockton-based Jomast, were highlighted in an article in The Times newspaper which claimed that out of 168 houses, 155 of them had red doors and out of 66 they visited, asylum seekers were found living in them.
This story was even being reported in the New York Times and other reports compared the situation to Nazi Germany.
But how true is all of this?
We spoke to two asylum seekers who told us about their experiences.
An asylum seeker from Iran said: ”The red door was an indication of being the residence of an asylum seeker and everyone in the local area knew that including prostitutes who would knock on the door.”
“Teenagers were throwing things at the windows mainly late at night.’
“Some asylum seekers were asked for money, chased and threatened.”
He told us his door has now been painted a different colour.
“It has only been recently done so it is too early to say whether there has been any changes,” He said.
“The door colour has changed but the property is still here and people know this.
“I don’t expect to see any immediate effect, but if anything it would be for the future residents, but at the moment it is just a change of colour and nothing else.’’
He also said there have been problems in the past with who are sharing these homes together.
”There should be some thoughts going into dispersing the individuals. All these houses are shared and often they are of different cultures and language,” he said.
A 31-year-old Kuwaiti man said he was aware of problems.
”I heard that there were a few rough people causing problems in the area,” he said.
”When I would go to see my friends they would tell me that young children would throw stones or eggs at their homes.
”After journalists visited us, they changed the colour of our door.”
Stuart Monk, owner and managing director of Jomast, was recently questioned by MPs in Parliament about this issue.
Mr Monk, who is one of Teesside’s richest men with an estimated £175m fortune, told MPs that the homes of asylum seekers had not been specifically targeted.
He repeatedly told the hearing: “My firm had received no reports of incidents from asylum seekers regarding the colour of the doors.”
Before it was decided to repaint the doors, local artist Bobby Benjamin came up with the idea to do so as a community project.
With his artistic background, he saw this as an opportunity to make a change however did not manage to begin this project before the doors were repainted.
His strategy was to start an online petition naming it ‘Any Colour You Like’ as a way of beating the repainting commissioned by Jomast.
Bobby planned to ask tenants what colour they would like their doors to be painted in order to stop the abuse.
He is pleased that something is now being done about this, even if it was not him who got to start repainting first.
“I think it’s great, I just hope it’s done in the right way, what we don’t want is them to paint all the red doors blue then the problem persists,” he said.
“I think the approach I would have had is to paint everybody’s door, but you can’t expect Jomast to do that.
“Middlesbrough already has the highest quota of immigration in the UK, even though there is cultural differences if we can find a way to nullify that, Middlesbrough can act as a beacon for the rest of the country.
“People could then take a leaf out of our book in dealing with these issues.”