Marseille, France’s second-largest city, has come heavily under fire by human rights groups over a proposed plan to force homeless individuals to wear a yellow triangle, which would include identification and medical information. The triangles, critics argued, were far too similar to the yellow Stars of David Nazis forced Jewish people in Germany to wear.
The yellow triangle program has been abandoned since sparking international controversy. It would have theoretically required, according to Ha’aretz, that the city’s homeless wear proper identification at all times. The yellow triangles were cards meant to be easily spotted by law enforcement or health personnel, with the intention of making it easier to help the card’s carrier if found in distress.
The Israeli newspaper notes that the backlash was swift from human rights groups, including the French Ligue des droits de l’Homme (“League of the Rights of Man”), which condemned the program as being disturbingly similar to “the yellow star that the Jews had to wear during the Second World War.” Making homeless people identifiable on site, the group continued, was “stigmatizing.”
Government officials, upon being made aware of the program, also responded with shock. Speaking to Le Parisien newspaper, social affairs minister Marisol Touraine described the program as “outrageous”: “You don’t point the finger at the poorest.” Touraine did not note the similarity to the Nazi sticker but instead emphasized that forcing someone to carry a card with their medical information to be accessed by government or medical officials at any time, was a gross violation of medical privacy.
The negative public response began during a piloting of the program, in which authorities distributed more than 100 cards throughout the city to its homeless. In response, protesters also gathered in front of Marseille City Hall on Wednesday to demand an end to the program, with signs comparing the yellow Stars of David to the triangles.
The program, officials later said, would be canceled on orders from the mayor. One senior medical official, head of the social and medical emergency services SAMU Sociale René Giancarli, explained that the objective of the program “was to come to the aid of the destitute,” and that “we are going to change the look of this card.” While Giancarli said he understood the criticism to the program, others within the city government argued the outrage was misplaced. Deputy Mayor Xavier Mery was quoted as describing the criticism as “absurd” and stating: “It not only questions the necessity of a scheme for homeless people but also the commitment of the city, the SAMU (social medical emergency services) and volunteers to come to the aid of those who need it the most.”