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BOOTH'S VIEW

IMMIGRATION

Danes more welcoming of refugees than depicted

The asylum debate – indeed the entire discussion of immigration – has seemingly been dominated by fear mongers and naysayers, but columnist Michael Booth argues that the tide is starting to turn thanks to the acceptance and tolerance of good-hearted Danes.

Danes more welcoming of refugees than depicted
Syrian refugees are fed in the cantine of the Auderød asylum centre. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe?Scanpix
Do you know what? I think I am beginning to sense a deep sea-change (as opposed to a deep-sea change – I’m no seismologist) in the immigration/asylum debate here in Denmark. It may just be hopeful thinking on my part, of course, but finally, at last, the good guys – by which I mean the majority of ordinary Danes – are fighting back against the fear-mongering, power-hungry, opportunistic politicians.
 
Finally, at last, a positive message about immigration is beginning to gain traction in the conventional media, as well as on social media, a message which is being backed up by reliable statistics that prove not only that Denmark needs immigration, indeed that its very economic future relies on immigration, but that the majority of Danes are well aware of this and are more open to foreigners than the popular media myth has it.
 
Along with numerous reports from respected economic institutions in the last few days that detail precisely the economic benefits to a country of immigration (and which prove, for instance, that immigration does not result in lower pay for indigenous workers, and that immigrants do not take the jobs of Danes who are willing to work), there have also been encouraging reports of grass roots activities right here in Denmark.
 
Last week, for instance, Politiken reported from the Sønderborg municipality in Jutland, where a group of locals had managed to overcome their anxiety at the news that they would be receiving 200 Syrian asylum seekers by taking the trouble to get to know, and to an extent embrace, them. 
 
A voluntary group of locals in the town of Nordborg have taken things into their own hands and set up a support group for the Syrian men – they are mostly men, with a handful of women – who have been temporarily quartered in their town prior to being permanently housed elsewhere across the country. 
 
“There was a concern about what type of people they were,” said the leader of the volunteer group, unemployed local man Martin Zeissler. “Were they dangerous? Were they from Isis? That racist gene that I reckon all people have in part, sprang up in me.”
 
Zeissler decided to hold a local meeting to discuss the new arrivals, but instead of the meeting turning into a NIMBY-fest – an excuse to gather the pitchforks and torches – a dialogue commenced between the locals and the new arrivals. 
 
“We asked what they needed,” Zeissler told Politiken. “And they said, ‘We want to learn Danish, we want to integrate, we want to know how to live here, and want to get to know some people’.”
 
Contrary to some locals’ fears, the Syrians were, in the main, well-educated – dentists, doctors, engineers, hairdressers. Soon, other locals were joining the welcoming team: “It is very simple, as far as I am concerned,” local woman Dorthe Mikkelsen told the newspaper. “In our family we have always said that you should only support and meet others with an open heart.”
 
Of course, not all the locals were so open, and various scurrilous rumours began to emerge about the Syrians (that they started a fight in a supermarket, for instance), all of which were soon exposed as fiction by smart use of social media. So, these days, when the Syrians are shopping in the local Netto, Nordborgers help show them how to weigh their groceries. A football team has been formed and locals have arranged Danish language classes and collected clothes and computers for the Syrians. In short, the asylum seekers are being prepared better for the time when they are distributed across Denmark by this voluntary group than they are by the well-meaning but under-resourced local authorities.
 
The Politiken article was titled ‘The Miracle of Nordborg’, but do you know what I think? This was no miracle. It was simply a matter of decent Danes, the silent majority as opposed to the hectoring mouth-breathing trolls who have managed to dominate the debate for far too long, doing the decent thing, just as the majority would do were they confronted with equally decent people from another country who were desperately in search of a sanctuary and a second chance.
 
Michael BoothMichael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle

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IMMIGRATION

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.

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Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.

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