Front doors on properties used to home asylum-seekers in the North East are to be repainted after claims they were all painted red to indicate who was living there.
The Times (£) said people fleeing violence in their own countries had become victims of harassment and abuse in Stockton as a result of the "secret apartheid policy".
Security group G4S – which has the Home Office contract for asylum-seeking housing in the North East – denied there was any policy to home asylum-seekers in properties with red doors, but said its subcontractor Jomast would repaint them regardless. A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News this was to ensure there was no "predominant colour" on doors where asylum-seekers lived.
Of 168 Jomast properties The Times identified in Stockton, 155 had red front doors. Of 66 residents spoken to, 62 were asylum-seekers.
The report said asylum-seekers living behind the red doors had experienced rocks and eggs being thrown at their homes, while a National Front symbol was scratched into one door.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said he was "deeply concerned" by the claims as he ordered the Home Office to conduct an "urgent audit" of asylum-seeker housing in the North East.
"I expect the highest standards from our contractors," he said in a statement. "If we find any evidence of discrimination against asylum-seekers it will be dealt with immediately as any such behaviour will not be tolerated."
Labour MP Chuka Umunna tweeted that the claims were a "scar on our country".
G4S said there was "categorically" no policy to house asylum-seekers in homes with red doors.
"There is categorically no policy to house asylum-seekers behind red doors," a spokesperson said. "Our subcontractor Jomast has used red paint across many of its properties and it's grotesque to equate this with any form of discrimination.
"Although we have received no complaints or requests on this issue from asylum-seekers we house, in light of the concerns raised Jomast has agreed to address the issue by repainting front doors in the area so that there is no predominant colour."
Jomast said its accommodation had been found to meet or exceed Home Office standards.
"As many landlords will attest, paint is bought in bulk for use across all properties," managing director Stuart Monk said. "It is ludicrous to suggest that this constitutes any form of discrimination, and offensive to make comparisons to a policy of apartheid in Nazi Germany.
"However we have agreed to repaint doors in a range of colours after these concerns were brought to our attention."
A local pro-refugee group called Seekers of Sanctuary, run by former Liberal Democrat councillor Suzanne Fletcher, said the issue of asylum-seekers in red-door homes had been raised up to four years ago.
She told the Today programme: "In September 2012 we asked G4S if they would do something about the red doors and they replied that they had no intention of doing anything about it. They wouldn't be asking Jomast to change the existing red doors on their houses."
Other local charity workers said they had never encountered specific complaints about red doors and that all Jomast houses were painted the same way, regardless of who was living there.
Paul Catterall, chief executive officer of Open Door North-East, which provides support for asylum-seekers on Teesside, told BuzzFeed News: "In Middlesbrough and Stockton, we have a well-organised voluntary sector and mostly welcoming communities.
"You will get the occasional issue but that's just life, it happens."
He said he was glad nevertheless the Jomast doors were being repainted in a range of colours: "There will be less likelihood of them getting attention."
Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, told the Commons that the red doors could have marked people out for "prejudicial treatment and evil intent".
He said that while the policy might not have been deliberate it did run the risk of "undermining social cohesion and the safety of those seeking sanctuary".
McDonald questioned whether housing asylum-seekers should ever be contracted out to a private company seeking a profit.
"Many people can be confined to one bedroom and it’s simply not dignified. It’s not a humanitarian response to put people in those conditions and the public policy implications for contracting out these arrangements are devastating," he said.
"These are not matters for people to derive public profit from. I think it is a matter for government and local government, local government being the best organisation to look at the wider implications of welcoming people into our communities in this way."
Giving evidence to the Commons home affairs committee on Tuesday 26 January, Jomast owner and managing director Monk said the houses with red doors had been painted 20 years ago.
"Those doors were painted red probably 20 years ago, before the advent of asylum accommodation," he said.
"When we began to transfer the use of those properties by private tenants, we didn't change the colours."
Matthew Champion is a deputy world news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Matthew Champion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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