On refugee policy in Denmark
Since when I ended my teenage years, I always had an opinion of North European countries as a kind of paradise, where welfare was working well, the unemployment rate was much lower than Southern Europe and where refugees were welcome.
In the last few decades the situation rapidly evolved, especially in the last 5-7 years, when Denmark moved from being a country where the left wing had the majority of preferences with the “Socialdemokraterne” and the “Socialistisk Folkeparti” parties into a place where “Venstre, Danmarks liberale parti” and the “Dansk Folkeparti” parties took the lead, with their anti-Europeanist ideals of “Denmark for the Danes”.
It became a place where immigrants were seen as a problem instead of a source of labour and intellectual force.
It sounds incredible that in a country where the unemployment rate is still at 4%, way lower than countries like Greece (21%), Spain (16 %), Italy (11%) and the average in Europe (8%), there are so strict rules in order to get a job and a VISA, especially if your nationality is outside of the Eurozone. A “positive list”, a list of “professions experiencing a shortage of qualified professionals in Denmark” is the only “fast” way to enter into employment.
According to a study by the Danish Refugee Council, Denmark has made significant changes to the Law about 68 times since the beginning of 2002, which is a change every three months. The updates introduced have always been aimed at making the citizenship or residence in the country less accessible and this policy has been pursued by both center-right and center-left governments.
“The numerous changes made to the immigration law make it very difficult for lawyers to make sense of it all. In the long run it creates real human rights issues”
says Lucienne Jørgensen, a human rights expert.
Of particular concern is the introduction by Denmark of a manoeuvre that allows the authorities to take away from all asylum seekers anything that exceeds the value of US$ 1.450 (except for objects of personal and sentimental value).
The restrictions linked to access to citizenship and residence that have been introduced and strengthened in recent years are numerous. Much of the work done by the government, however, includes manoeuvres aimed at lowering the impression and image of an open and affordable country for asylum seekers and immigrants.
In 2015, Denmark reduced the budget reserved for the services offered to these categories by 45%. The Danish government then proceeded to publicize that cut and other measures of this type also in foreign newspapers, including those in Lebanon which has a relatively higher percentage of asylum seekers in Denmark than in other countries.
Recently a spokesman for the ruling party, “Venstre, Danmarks liberale parti”, said that these increasingly restrictive measures related to access to the country and citizenship are a “necessary evil” due to the “biggest refugee crisis of all time”. These manoeuvres are in part driven by the second largest party since the last elections, the “Dansk Folkeparti”, who are populist and anti-immigrant.
Even if the party is not a formal member of the current government, its support is essential to keep the Prime Minister’s party in office.
Denmark is stuck between the two most attractive countries for asylum seekers, namely Germany and Sweden, making the Danish territory also strategic for the passage of such migratory flows.
In 2015, the number of asylum seekers in Denmark was about 21,000, compared to 14,815 in 2014 and 7,557 in 2013. These are numbers that the welfare of the Danish state “can not manage” with its less than 6 million citizens.
So are the Danes are not a hospitable people as I often imagined before?
Remembering the numbers and that Denmark has a relatively small population, a stream of immigrants such as the current one creates changes that are easy to observe. People from other countries in Denmark are increasingly present in schools and workplaces, making the situation palpable.
Danish citizens are accustomed to a very high level of welfare, which has already been greatly reduced in recent years, making it even more difficult for the authorities to allow access to the country by numerous applicants.
This is mainly for two distinct reasons.
The first is a decline in services and the quality of welfare within the State, coinciding with these flows, creating scepticism on the part of the population regarding this issue.
The second reason is an increase in political and social groups driven by anti-European and anti-immigrant ideals, creating social discontent and what like very non-normal clashes for such a small and peaceful Scandinavian country such as Denmark.
On the other hand there are still lot of groups who go against these anti-immigrants ideals.
When the “Venstre, Danmarks liberale parti” made their advertisement to discourage Lebanese refugees from coming to Denmark, a privately-funded initiative placed a full-page advertisement in “The Guardian”, welcoming the refugees from all over the world, announcing “So, dear fellow human being, there is another voice in Denmark – a voice representing peace, solidarity and human decency. That’s why we extend a warm welcome to Denmark and denounce the government’s scare tactics” or groups as “venligboerne”, organising activities to welcome and integrate the immigrants with the Danes.