LEGO Refugee Toy

“Guck mal! Eine Rakete! Das wünsche ich mir. Wie cool ist das! Eine Abschlepper mit Flugzeug! Das wünsche ich mir auch. Oh! Ein riesiges Schiff! Ja, ja, das wünsche mir so super sehr.  Hej, was dann? Warum ist der Polizei so böse gegen der Fluchtling da? Das wünsche ich mir gar nicht.”

These are the words from my four year old as we peruse the LEGO City collection at Karstadt. For those not fluent in German, here’s the rough english translation:

Look! A rocketship! I wish for that! How cool is this! A towtruck with an airplane! I wish for that also. Oh! A giant ship! Yes, I wish for that very much. Hey, what’s this? Why is the policeman so evil to that refugee there? I do not wish for that at all.

Upon closer inspection, I could make out there was a number on the ‘fleeing’ LEGO Minifigure. OK, so I’ve looked past LEGO’s obnoxious sexism in their collections. Surely I could just let it go that my son mistook this ‘prisoner’ for a refugee through no fault of LEGO’s, right? I mean, most likely their intent is much clearer in other languages where the word for refugee doesn’t include the word for ‘to flee.’ Then my nine year old walked over and inspected the toy. Having a more robust vocabulary, she asked “why did they put Flucht on the tag instead of Verbrecher?

At that moment I decided we should leave the store before my cool-head left me. When my husband came home I showed him photos from our after-school outing, with no preface. He stopped on the photo above. “Sheesh, that seems a little oblivious. What is this, 1930? What island prison is he escaping from?”

Both my kids are LEGO maniacs, so clearly I wanted to find some valid reason for the existence of this toy and the wording on the tag. I quickly found the corresponding minimovie LEGO posted to their website a few months ago: Die Flucht von der Gefängnisinsel.

That film should have brought relief, right? No one at LEGO was suggesting that refugees trying to escape complete despair in dangerous unseaworthy vessels should be hunted down and handcuffed by overzealous policeman in speedboats. I mean, LEGO Foundation made a significant contribution to UNHCR just a few years ago. It just wouldn’t make sense for them to release a toy so savage and blatantly racist.

Let’s take it at face value for a moment. LEGO is depicting a prisoner escaping from an island prison. That’s totally cool, right? Except this isn’t 1940 and that ain’t Machine Gun Kelly. Where exactly could this poor soul be escaping from then? How about Rikers Island? Yes, that human rights and environmental disaster masquerading as an institution keeping New Yorkers somehow safer. Makes sense to hunt down that rascal. Or perhaps he’s escaping from Robben Island? Indeed, could be our little minifigure is someone more the ilk of Nelson Mandela. Were it not for the modern speedboat, we might even guess he was paddling away from Asinara.

And if the scene itself weren’t enough, they had to go all-in with the mustache and whatever sits atop his head. Stereotype much?! I won’t even wade into that water here.

Well, @#$! LEGO. I can’t come up with a valid explanation for this monstrosity. I get that new product development can last a number of years before toys actually hit shelves. That can make it tricky to ensure you are always sensitive to current events and present toys that keep in line with your brand values, like Caring and Playfulness. I’d love to hear in what context you believed this set was a reasonable offering to foster curiosity and collaboration among 5 – 12 year old kids.

In the meantime, someone at Karstadt should at least update your POS system to replace the word ‘Flucht’ with, well, just about anything. Your team should know better than to fan the flames of ignorance right now. Shame on you.

For everyone else, if you agree this toy seems a little “out of order,” I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments, or even better,  contact LEGO and Karstadt to say, “unfug!” or “actually, this is not OK.




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