When the Danish government published advertisements in Lebanese newspapers about changes to national asylum policies, it made headlines the world over and prompted not one but two counter campaigns from Danish groups opposed to the anti-refugee message.
Now the Ministry for Immigration, Integration and Housing’s widely-discussed and controversial campaign is being investigated by the parliamentary ombudsman on the grounds that it may have been misleading.
“It has been stated that the ministry’s advertisements seen in isolation were factually correct, but that they leave, especially Syrian refugees, with the wrong picture. If that is the case, the refugees could on false premises be swayed into not seeking asylum in Denmark,” Ombudsman Jørgen Steen Sørensen, who ensures that public authorities comply with the laws and other statutes governing their actions, said.
“I therefore believe that we should clarify whether the ministry has lived up to the applicable principles on public information,” he added.
The advertisements, spearheaded by Integration Minister Inger Støjberg, informed readers that “Denmark has decided to tighten the regulations concerning refugees in a number of areas.” It then laid out those changes, including significant cuts to social benefits and restrictions on bringing family members to Denmark. They also advised would-be migrants and refugees that they will be required to speak and understand Danish to obtain a permanent residency.The full English version can be seen below:
The campaign was published in four Lebanese newspapers. Additionally, it was posted in ten different languages on the Danish Immigration Service’s website and displayed in asylum centres across Denmark. The Arabic version of the ad was also reportedly circulated widely through social media and a number of influential international news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, reported on the campaign.
The head of a Danish group called "Refugees Welcome" on Tuesday urged more asylum-seekers to come to the country, in an opinion piece published in Lebanon's English-language Daily Star, one of the four newspapers to carry the government ad.
"The case-processing time is among the fastest in Europe ... and the waiting time for family reunification is between four and seven months," Michala Bendixen wrote, adding that the adverts "give a completely distorted picture of the situation."
Denmark also has one of Europe's highest refugee recognition rates, with nine out of ten Syrians having had their applications granted, she noted.
Sørensen said that he has formally requested a response from ministry officials before an October 2nd deadline. The ombudsman’s letter to the ministry can be read here (in Danish).
The Ministry for Immigration, Integration and Housing spent some 252,000 kroner ($37,650) on the advertisements.