OPINION: Denmark’s new race to restrict immigration steals focus from pandemic

With a pandemic raging, Danish political discourse has once again turned towards a new focus on limiting immigration and asylum. Why?

OPINION: Denmark's new race to restrict immigration steals focus from pandemic
The Danish citizenship test. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, in a recent statement, said that the number of asylum seekers who arrived in the country in 2020 was the lowest in almost 30 years.

In a January 30th press statement, the ministry noted that around 600 people were granted asylum in Denmark in 2020.

That figure corresponds to around 5 percent of the total who were granted asylum in Denmark in 2015, according to the ministry. That year saw a peak in refugee arrivals across Europe as hundreds of thousands fled armed conflicts in Syria and other countries.

While 600 were granted asylum last year, a total of 1,547 applied for it, according to an earlier ministry total – which means a large proportion had their asylum claims rejected.

READ ALSO: Denmark registered record low number of asylum seekers in 2020

“Far fewer (people) are seeking asylum in Denmark right now. That also means far fewer residence permits for refugees. In fact, the fewest we’ve ever registered under the system we use now. That’s really good news,” Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye said in the January 30th statement.

The minister also said that “the government’s goal is essentially zero spontaneous asylum seekers,” reconfirming a stance both he and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had already expressed on the government’s behalf.

“We must do what we can to help the world’s refugees. But they don’t have the right to a future in a welfare state,” Tesfaye continued, noting that the government has earmarked “350 million kroner more than last year for things like helping refugees in nearby areas (to conflict)”.

The government is not alone in the Danish parliament in talking up restrictions on asylum seekers and immigrants.

On Wednesday, the opposition Venstre (Liberal) party presented a plan which it said would promote integration.

The plan includes compulsory work for refugees and immigrants on social welfare payments and reducing the current monthly social credit payment for refugees, known as integrationsydelse – which is already lower than the regular welfare benefit.

It also seeks to reintroduce a residency requirement (opholdskrav) for eligibility for unemployment cover through the A-kasse system, meaning foreign residents would not qualify until they have lived in Denmark for a set period. A controversial previous version of this rule was scrapped by the current government in 2019.

Additionally, the Liberal plan says it will take action against what it calls “a problem with social control in certain Muslim environments” by economically sanctioning homes which receive social welfare if women do not make themselves available to the labour market.

“If you can walk from Helmand to Hundige [town in Denmark, ed.], you can also go down to the park,” the Liberal spokesperson on citizenship, Morten Dahlin, said in a tweet in reference to the proposal to introduce compulsory work.

“That’s why the Liberals propose a duty to work both for those who have only just come to Denmark and for those who have been here for years,” Dahlin added.

Another party, the Conservatives, have meanwhile called for tighter citizenship rules including stricter demands on language proficiency.

READ ALSO: Applying for Danish citizenship: The process explained

Denmark, like all other countries, is still struggling with a devastating global pandemic. The challenges of that include its vaccination rollout, the effect of lockdown on mental health including amongst school children, and the impact on the economy, as well as ensuring healthcare services can cope with the additional strain.

Nevertheless, politicians remain keen to spend energy on talking up the need to again restrict immigration and asylum, despite the low numbers reported by the country’s immigration ministry.

The Social Democrats won the 2019 general election thanks in no small part to a promise to be tight on immigration. The positioning of Frederiksen and Tesfaye underlines that they intend to continue with this winning strategy.

Meanwhile, the turmoil in which the Liberals currently find themselves due to the resignation of their biggest anti-immigration profile, Inger Støjberg, means the centre-right party probably feels the need to show that its tough stance on immigration is its own, not Støjberg’s, position.

Foreign nationals who live in Denmark – whatever the reason they moved to the country – are likely to face more tight rules and othering in the public discourse as a result.

That is difficult at the best of times, but during a pandemic when many are unable to leave Denmark to visit loved ones, it feels particularly hard to take.

READ ALSO: How the dizzying cost of family reunification keeps Danes and foreign partners apart


Member comments

  1. If, as the author mentions, the government won an election due ‘in no small part’ to its promise to be tight on immigration then why is it a surprise that they implement the wishes of the electorate? Does the author not support Democracy? Perhaps, like most liberals / ‘far-left’, only when the result supports their own twisted world view?

    1. Its positive if a government is not openly racist. They say they are against one group, but the new government made people more patriotic and when you do not pronounce the local language danish correctly, then you get ignored, you don’t get the job etc Mob mentality. If the government openly says they do not like foreigners, but the birth rate in the western world is very low. Without immigrants there will not be enough people to take care of the old and there will be a shortage of workers driving wages up and who will pay those high wages? East europe and Russia has a extremely low birth rate, so it has to be non EU workers or the country has to get the birth rates up. The government should either encourage people to have more children or increase immigration. Hating one group of people does not help society in any way. If you think long term.

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OPINION: If you can’t go home for Christmas, Denmark is a good place to be

After missing out on seeing his family for Christmas 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Local Denmark editor Michael Barrett got to try out Danish Christmas for the first time.

A Danish dining table on Christmas Eve.
A Danish dining table on Christmas Eve. File photo: Vibeke Toft/Ritzau Scanpix

We’d always planned to spend last Christmas in the UK. My daughter was born in March 2020, coinciding with the outset of the global coronavirus pandemic but, as worrying and uncertain as everything was at the time, we were sure it would have all settled down in nine months’ time. We started planning for her to spend her first Christmas with her grandparents, cousin and the rest of our extended family in England.

As we all know, this was far from how things turned out. The autumn and winter of last year saw spiralling Covid-19 cases across Europe and countries responding by introducing more and more restrictions, including on travel.

I’m not sure exactly when we conceded we’d have to cancel our plans to go to the UK for Christmas in 2020, but I do remember the look of resignation on my parents’ faces when I let them know. The writing had already been on the wall for a while by then.

Visiting my partner’s mother in December, I looked out of the window at the greying skies over Jutland, the dim lights of a distant Føtex store and the limp red and white pendants on flag poles as bare as the trees, and nothing felt familiar.

This was because, despite having lived in Denmark for almost a decade and a half, I’d never spent Christmas in the country. Every year I’d head home by the 22nd or 23rd, usually returning just before New Year to enjoy the rowdy firework displays in Aarhus or Copenhagen after a week of putting my feet up and savouring the familiarity and comfort of Christmas at home.

Denmark famously has its own Christmas traditions, comparable but certainly different to the British ones. I knew about them – I’ve exchanged information about national Christmas customs with many Danes over the years – but never witnessed them first-hand.

The big day came around quickly, not least because it all happens on the 24th, not the 25th.

Festivities did take a while to get going, though. Not until 4pm in fact, when ancient Disney Christmas special From All of Us to All of You, known in Danish as Disneys juleshow began on main TV broadcaster DR. Usually I’d have been watching an early-1980s David Bowie introducing The Snowman around now. A cup of warm gløgg (spiced red wine with raisins and almonds) was thrust into my hand, and I missed Bowie a little bit less.

After a couple more glasses of gløgg and wine, we sat down for Christmas dinner: roast duck, brown potatoes, boiled potatoes, gravy and red cabbage. It was of course already dark and a prolific number of candles were lit on the table and around the room, adding to the festive feeling of the star-topped tree, paper hearts and other decorations.

For dessert, we had risalamande, the popular cold rice sweet mixed with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds and served with cherry sauce. By tradition, one whole almond is left in the dessert and whoever finds it wins a present, which is customarily a julegris, a chocolate pig with marzipan filling. This game is often fixed so that a child (or children) wins the prize, but the only child present was a nine-month-old and I ended up finding the almond in my bowl.

Then it was time to dance around the tree and exchange presents. Most of us had too much dessert, so it was a more sedate affair than I expected. After the little one was fast asleep we sat back on the sofas and had a couple more glasses of wine or maybe a few snacks.

It was all over before Santa traditionally lands his sleigh on rooftops and hops down British chimneys in the small hours of Christmas morning.

Danish families with young children often assign someone to dress up as Father Christmas and come round to deliver the presents to excited youngsters before dinner on Christmas Eve.

Maybe I’ll get the chance to audition for the role next year because our Danish-British family will be in Denmark every other Christmas for the foreseeable future – by choice, not restriction. I’m looking forward to it, because my first Danish Christmas gave me a better understanding of why this time of year is loved by so many Danes.

READ ALSO: My five favourite Danish childhood Christmas memories