LAST August, I wrote an article for The Guardian under the headline: “Refugees should head for Denmark – here are five reasons why”. It created a media storm here in Denmark; within 24 hours I had appeared on every national broadcast media.
On the political TV programme Deadline, I was confronted by the host: “Do you not acknowledge that a majority of the Danish voters are in favour of a strict asylum policy?”
I received e-mails and Facebook messages accusing me of being “a traitor” for listing the advantages of my country and mentioning the fact that many refugees have told me how they have met welcoming, open-minded and helpful Danes.
Inviting people to come to your country and praising your country’s benefits is usually called patriotism. But things have been turned upside down and Denmark is now in competition for the title to be the least attractive country for asylum seekers.
The Scandinavian countries face a difficult dilemma. We have always been proud of our human rights standards, equality and social welfare. But if too many people are coming from outside, the balance of the tax-based welfare system is tipping, and our tribal-like culture feels threatened. So, on the one hand, we have to respect the conventions and grant Syrians and Eritreans asylum, on the other hand, we want to scare them away, which is what has been happening.
First, there were the adverts posted by the Danish government in the Lebanese papers, informing refugees of our strict asylum rules. These ads were later deemed to be unlawfully misleading by our own ombudsman. It worked, however, and in September, we saw thousands of refugees passing through Denmark on the train, on their way to Sweden, holding up signs saying: “No Denmark”.
Our humane image was later somewhat restored by the touching photo of a Danish policeman playing on the motorway with a small Syrian girl. But soon after, one small part of the new asylum bill caught the attention of the international media. The nice Danish police officers are supposed to search refugees on arrival and seize their valuables to pay for accommodation.
This led to comparisons with the Nazis confiscating possessions from Jewish people during the Second World War. The Danish government was much too slow to assure people that wedding rings would not be confiscated.
Seizing jewellery was never meant as a serious way of funding the cost of asylum. The government knows that very few people have anything left when they arrive at our borders. And even if they did, this wouldn’t cover the expensive Danish asylum system.
Asylum seekers are forced to stay in remote camps and are not allowed to work, a bureaucratic and institutionalising system, which leaves people feeling passive and frustrated. They are not even allowed to rent a room on their own if they have the means.
Coverage of jewel issue took all the attention away from the more serious parts of the bill. The most draconian one is a three-year waiting period to apply for family reunification. Even the Danish state’s own Institute of Human Rights says this is a direct breach of Article 8 of the European convention on human rights.
Other elements of the bill include: tougher requirements to obtain permanent residency (leaving a great part of refugees without a chance of ever getting it); a reduction from five to two years stay for refugees; abolition of the access to housing outside the camps for families with children; and tightening the rules for withdrawal of a residence permit.
The bill was passed this week with broad support from all right wing parties and, more surprisingly, also the leading opposition party, the Social Democrats, in spite of hard resistance from individuals.
In the eyes of our politicians, for the majority of Danish voters, our old welfare state is more important than solidarity with the world. If we want to maintain a society that takes care of the weak, we are afraid we cannot handle too many refugees.
The question is, then, who should take care of them, if not a rich country like us?
Denmark has often been a world leader on immigration issues, and other European countries will probably follow our downward path. But this time we have gone too far and our diplomatic position is in danger. Our selfish stance offers no help at all in solving the global refugee crisis. — Guardian News Service
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