Denmark no longer a haven for refugees

Inviting people to come to your country and praising your country’s benefits is usually called patriotism. But Denmark is now in competition for the title to be the least attractive country for asylum seekers.

The Scandinavian countries face a difficult dilemma. We have always been proud of our human rights standards, equality and social welfare. But if too many people arrive from outside, the balance of the tax-based welfare system is tipped, and our culture feels threatened.

So, on the one hand we have to respect the conventions and grant refugees asylum, but on the other hand we want to scare them away, which is what has been happening.

One small part of the new asylum Bill caught the attention of the international media. Danish police officers are supposed to search refugees on arrival and seize their valuables to pay for accommodation.

This led to comparisons with the Nazis confiscating possessions from Jewish people during World War II. The Danish government was much too slow to assure people that wedding rings would not be confiscated.

Seizing jewellery was never meant to fund the cost of asylum. The government knows that very few refugees have anything left when they arrive at our borders. And even if they did, it wouldn’t cover the expensive Danish asylum system.

Asylum seekers are forced to stay in remote camps and are not allowed to work. They are not even allowed to rent a room on their own, even if they have the means.

Coverage of the jewellery issue took attention away from the more serious parts of the asylum Bill. The most draconian one is a three-year waiting period to apply for family reunification. The Danish state’s own Institute of Human Rights says this is a breach of the European convention on human rights.

Other elements of the Bill include: tougher requirements to obtain permanent residency (leaving a great number of refugees without a chance of ever getting it); a reduction from five to two years’ stay for refugees; abolition of access to housing outside the camps for families with children; and tightening the rules for the withdrawal of residence permits.

The Bill was passed this week with broad support from all rightwing parties and, surprisingly, the leading opposition party, the Social Democrats, in spite of tough resistance from individuals.

In the eyes of our politicians, our old welfare state is more important for the majority of Danish voters than solidarity with the world. If we want to maintain a society that takes care of the weak, we are afraid we cannot handle too many refugees. But who should take care of them, if not a rich country like us?

Denmark has often been a leader on immigration issues, but now other European countries will probably follow our downward path. This time we have gone too far – our selfish stance offers no help in solving the global refugee crisis. – © Guardian News & Media 2016

Michala Bendixen is chairperson of Refugees Welcome in Denmark

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