In 2014, the absence rate from the language lessons was 24.8 percent nationwide. The most recent figures from the Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Interior show that in 2017, that figure had increased to 36.4 percent, DR P4 København reports.
One municipality with a particularly low attendance record is Lejre, with 44.6 percent of lessons missed, over eight percent higher than the national average.
Lejre Municipality has been successful in bringing refugees on to the labour market, resulting in many taking language lessons in the evenings, Carsten Madsen, director of NSI, the language and immigration centre in the town, told DR.
“That has an impact on how many people are present at lessons,” Madsen said.
Carsten Rasmussen, who is mayor in the central Zealand town, agreed with Madsen’s comments.
“It is naturally challenging for refugees to both fulfil full-time employment and then come home again before going out to language lessons in the evening,” Rasmussen told Ritzau.
Once refugees and family members granted residency under family unification rules are in employment, municipalities are no longer able to sanction them for not attending language lessons.
The municipality is therefore trying Saturday lessons to encourage attendance.
“That way you’re not working all day before you have to go,” Rasmussen said.
The figures do not show the distribution in low attendance between people who are working and not working, however.
“It would have been relevant to be able to split (the figures) and see where the problem is,” Rasmussen said.
At Sprogcenter Norsjælland, a language centre used by ten municipalities in northern Zealand, Hanne Lohmann, the centre’s director, recognised the effects of increased focus from municipalities on getting refugees into jobs.
But there may be other reasons for many refugees not fully focusing on lessons, Lohmann said.
“There are many things they have to do and maybe they also have a lot of other things on their minds,” Lohmann told DR P4.
Politicians criticised low language lesson attendance.
“I think this is very concerning because it has increased very quickly. I think action should be taken,” Conservative party spokesperson for immigration and integration Naser Khader said.
Mattias Tesfaye, spokesperson for immigration issues with the Social Democrats, said that in cases where were municipalities were able to punish non-attendance financially due to refugees no longer being reliant on social welfare, the benefits of learning Danish must be made clear.
“To be granted permanent residency, to be granted citizenship and to gain many different rights, a certain level of Danish proficiency must be achieved, so the argument for learning Danish is very strong,” Tesfaye told DR P4.