Danish prime minister says sorry to Greenlanders forcibly moved to Denmark

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen apologised in person Wednesday to six Greenlandic Inuits removed from their families and taken to Copenhagen more than 70 years ago as part of an experiment to create a Danish-speaking elite.

Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen on March 9th 2022 says sorry to Greenlanders forcibly moved to Denmark.
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen on March 9th 2022 says sorry to Greenlanders forcibly moved to Denmark. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

“What you were subjected to was terrible. It was inhumane. It was unfair. And it was heartless”, Mette Frederiksen told the six at an emotional ceremony in the capital.

“We can take responsibility and do the only thing that is fair, in my eyes: to say sorry to you for what happened,” she said.

In the summer of 1951, 22 Inuit children between the ages of five and eight were sent to Denmark, which was Greenland’s colonial power at the time but has since gained autonomy.

The parents had been promised their children would have a better life, learn Danish and return to Greenland one day as the future elite, in a deal between authorities in Copenhagen and Nuuk, the Greenland capital.

In Denmark, the children were not allowed to have any contact with their own families. After two years, 16 of the group were sent home to Greenland, but placed in an orphanage.

The others were adopted by Danish families. Several of the children never saw their real families again.

An inquiry into their fate concluded more than half were very negatively affected by the experiment.

Only six of the 22 are alive today.

“It was a big surprise for me when I realised that there were only six of them left, because they were not that old,” their lawyer Mads Pramming told AFP.

“They told me that the others had died of sorrow,” he added.

The PM’s apology is “a big success for them”, he said, two weeks after they each received financial compensation of 250,000 kroner (33,600 euros).

“First they got an apology in writing, and then the compensation for the violation of their human rights, and now they will have a face-to-face,” with the prime minister, Pramming said.

“Nothing had happened until now and it’s you, Mette, who took the initiative to set up a commission two years ago”, one of the six, Eva Illum, said.

In December 2020, the prime minister offered the six an official apology.

READ ALSO: Denmark to pay compensation to Greenland’s ‘experiment children’

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Denmark to pay compensation to Greenland’s ‘experiment children’

Six people from Greenland who were forced to take part in a Danish social experiment as children in the 1950s are to be paid thousands of kroner in compensation by the Danish state.

Denmark to pay compensation to Greenland’s 'experiment children'

The six people are the surviving members of a group of 22 children who were moved to Denmark and cut off from their families in the 1950s in an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between the Scandinavian country and its then-colony.

In Denmark, the children were deprived of contact with relatives and once they returned to Greenland they were not reunited with their parents but instead put in an orphanage. Many of them would never see their families again.

Denmark officially apologised to all 22 in 2020 and the six surviving members will now be paid 250,000 kroner each by the Danish state after a settlement was reached.

The settlement was confirmed in a statement by Denmark’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Senior Citizens on Friday and has since been reported by media in Greenland.

The official intention of the 1950s experiment was to give the children a Danish upbringing and language so that they could later become part of a “Danish speaking elite” in Greenland.

In the statement, social and elderly issues minister Astrid Kragh said she was “pleased the six people will now be given compensation by the state”.

“The relocation of the children is a dark chapter in the history of Greenland and Denmark, and we must not close our eyes to it,” she said.

“What happened had large negative consequences for the children, who lost their language, their cultural identity and their connection to their families,” she added.

The six people who will receive compensation are now aged around 80.

READ ALSO: Denmark apologises to children taken from Greenland in 1950s