A system that required homeless people in Marseille to identify themselves with yellow triangles pinned on their clothes has been scrapped after being likened to Nazi-era badges.
Officials had introduced the cards as part of an initiative hoped to help rough sleepers by displaying medical information so health workers could access details in an emergency.
But the appearance of the IDs, with a bright yellow triangle on the front, quickly caused controversy in France’s second-largest city.
Government ministers joined human rights groups to slam the policy, comparing it to the Nazi-era Star of David sewn on to Jewish people’s clothes during the Holocaust, and about 100 activists and homeless people protested on Wednesday outside Marseille’s town hall.
Christophe Louis, president of homeless charity Collectif Morts de la Rue, told The Local that the cards were “scandalous” and “stigmatising”.
“Wearing something that shows the whole world what illnesses you have is not only discriminating but it also breaches all medical confidentiality,” he added.
“Being identified by either a star or a triangle is horrific.”
Human rights group La Ligue des droits de l’Homme also said it was troubled by the resemblance to the Nazi badges but said there were no bad intentions behind the “blunder”.
Ministers in Francois Hollande’s Government hit out at the cards, which identify wearers with their name, photo and date of birth.
The French minister for social affairs, Marisol Touraine, said she was “shocked”.
“Forcing homeless people to carry a yellow triangle indicating the illnesses they might have is outrageous. You don’t point the finger at the poorest,” she told Le Parisien on Tuesday.
“You don’t write their illnesses on their clothes. Medical confidentiality, in particular, is a fundamental right. I want this local initiative to be stopped.”
Marseille’s local council has now caved into the pressure and suspended the programme, but not before up to 150 cards were distributed.
The deputy mayor, Xavier Mery, said the criticism was “absurd” and misplaced as the cards could save lives for people who have no next of kin to give emergency workers essential health information.
“I’m appalled by the absurd controversy surrounding this help card distributed by the SAMU (social medical emergency services),” he said in a statement.
“It not only questions the necessity of a scheme for homeless people but also the commitment of the city, the SAMU and volunteers to come to the aid of those who need it the most…SAMU staff and volunteers undertake respectable work, unlike the naysayers who do not help the situation by creating false debates and futile demonstrations.”