Something Rotten in Denmark

Last week, Danish immigration minister Birthe Roenn Hornbech left office under the shadow of scandal. The immediate cause of her dismissal: the illegal rejection of citizenship applications, in this instance submitted by at least 36 stateless Palestinian youths. It’s an issue that rarely makes front page news, but in fact this case only scratches the surface of a much wider, though often unseen, campaign to restrict access to Danish citizenship on discriminatory and xenophobic grounds.

The ministry’s actions in this case caught Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s attention because they violate Denmark’s international obligations under the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The Convention requires states party to grant citizenship rights to persons born on their territory who would otherwise be stateless. This principle plays a bedrock role in global efforts to combat the spread of statelessness by eliminating the possibility that stateless status could be inherited by a new generation, compounding its debilitating effects on access to education, political engagement, employment, health care and other vital social services.

Concern over the fact that the Immigration Ministry had knowingly denied citizenship to stateless persons then quickly gave way to astonishment last Tuesday, when Minister Hornbech’s replacement, the Minister for Development Cooperation, Søren Pind, effectively declared that immigrants should assimilate or leave and made a case for even tighter immigration laws.

According to a recent poll, Pind’s stance is not in line with the majority of Danish citizens. The minister is now the butt of a popular “Assimilate Søren Pind” Facebook campaign that has led thousands to change their profile picture to Pind’s official press photo over the weekend—a symbolic effort to show, according to the organizers, “how boring a country without diversity and space for multiple cultures would be.”

Of course, the Facebook campaign would be impossible if users could not post a genuine profile photo in the first place. In the language of the metaphor driving the campaign, the stateless applicants caught in Denmark’s immigration fortress would only appear as empty silhouettes.

Arbitrary denial of citizenship to stateless persons is not a new phenomenon in Denmark. In 2009, the Justice Initiative filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights in H.P. v. Denmark. The case challenged Denmark’s citizenship policies as applied to a stateless refugee who escaped torture in Iran over 20 years ago and who has been denied Danish nationality in eight successive applications over the course of 11 years.

The applicant furnished substantial evidence that he suffers from a learning disability associated with post-traumatic stress, making it extremely difficult for him to pass a language test required for acquisition of Danish citizenship—despite over 1000 hours of instruction in Danish. Still, immigration authorities refuse to regularize his status. H.P. is another faceless victim of Denmark’s unyielding—and unpopular—assimilation campaign.

Minister Pind called the Facebook campaign “good advertising” for his upcoming election bid this November. He has one thing right: visibility is a key to empowerment. As long as stateless individuals habitually residing in Denmark remain invisible and so deliberately marginalized by Danish authorities, they have faint hope of enjoying the essential rights made possible through a grant of citizenship.

3 Comments

Hide

How unfortunate that only 37 countries have signed this - and that the US is not one of them.

Thanks so much for giving attention to the problem of Danish immigration and associated integration. As I live in Denmark and have been threatened with deportation by this government for filing a form late - I can offer some additional key facts.

1. The Denmark most people around the world think (highly) of is not the Denmark that immigrants over the past ten years, and those who are otherwise still subject to imigration or integration residency or citizenship rules, have experienced.
2. Since Denmark is a small country, it generally evades the press that things like this go on here.
3. Because of a culture of suppressing negative feelings and expressions that might be perceived either as negative against another, or too supportive of one's own abilities, many Danes who might otherwise speak up about the way foreigners have been treated the last ten years will look the other way - look so far in the other direction that they will be INcapable of perceiving or believing what the rest of us experience and express.
4. Likewise, because Danes have, until recently, had a so-called welfare society (where everyone pays via taxes so that everyone can live at a satisfactory standard), there seem to be two post WWII generations that have "had it good" and have not experienced suffering. Those who have travelled and actually lived abroad seem most comfortable with "others" or non-Danes. The rest seem afraid, as is the case with some people in most countries, of what they do not know. This is especially true when fear is promoted for political reasons.
5. The current Danish government consists of (and refers to)two primary parties and one "support" party. Effectively, this government could get laws passed wither by working with all members of the Folketing, or Congress, regardless of party, and gaining their input and support, or, it can work only with the two primary parties and the support party - and thereby have an adequate majority to pass a law. The majority required in DK is not the same as required to pass a law in the United States, which requires greater support for a bill than is necessary to pass a law in Denmark. The present government seems to have been very isolationist. There has been little hand-stretching across the isles. Instead, and especially with respect to immigration and integration proposals and policy, the two pimary parties (Venstre - meaning literally "liberal" but by no means is that a correct translation according to the policies espoused), have courted the "support party" which uses the name Dansk Folkparty, or Danish Peoples' Party. As a result, the Dansk Folkparty has essentially controlled policy and law regarding, and toward, foreigners coming to, or living within Denmark - as well as their Danish spouses or partners.
6. The Dansk Folkparty, as I understand it, developed out of a need voiced by many people, that earlier policy toward immigrants, was backfiring precisely because of the country's social welfare policy. It's goal was to rid Denmark of foreigners whose values or behavior conflicted with those of the otherwise homogeneous Danish people. The party impacted ideas as well as laws, but had limited power until the recent government came into being.
7. Unfortunately, two things have occurred since the party was created. 1) The above-mentioned ability to effectively make law because of its support for the current 2 primary parties - who, without its support, would not be able to push their own policy through UNLESS they worked for broader consensus, and 2) the Dansk Folkparty has, probably in an effort to stay in power after having reduced the number of applicants for immigration by reason of family connections to half, as well as then reducing the number of approvals of those applications to half . . . has broadened its scope while not relenting in its rhetoric. All immigrants are now, in its view. suspect and presumed in Denmark to steal from the tax base - whereas it earlier limited this to people of Turkish or middle-eastern back ground . . . what it sometimes refers to as "non-western" countries. This is all regardless of the facts. But the rhetoric is promoted by means that have ocassionally had me thinking they would violate the "hate crime" laws of many U.S. states.
8. Also for political reasons, the Venstre and Conservative parties have allowed laws to be drafted and procedures to be followed despite warnings against them by professional organizations, academics who specialize in related fields, written criticism by the EU, and likewise by the U.N.
9. More than that, Venstre has adopted the fear that they would, I am told by many Danes, once have blown off as irrelevent. Therefore, it cannot be said that the problem lies with one party. It lies with the entire government, and, in my view, the fact that laws can be arbitrary and capricious which they cannot be in the United States according to accepted Constitutional interpretations.
10. My family has suffered and my Danish experience has soured me to the extent that my family plans to move in the future to the U.S., which no doubt has its problems, but which, at least has a legal system that incorporates more logic than the one in Denmark does, and so, promises more fair results.
11. I will leave it here rather than giving examples from personal experience. Suffice it to say that the immigration lemon in Denmark has been squeezed and squeezed and squeezed again, and again, to the point that all good will has been washed away and nothing remains but bitterness. That is not to say that there aren't many, lovely, kind, people in Denmark (who are also Danish 8). Because there are. And thankfully, I live among them. What I AM saying, though, is that the country (and I hold all those with the right to vote responsible) has failed to end bad policy but has rather let it go too far. Immigrants chat. And the general advice to potential immigrants has gone, over the 5 years that I've been here, from "If you're a risk-taker, give it a shot!" to "I don't want to discourage you, but my experience is . . . (i.e. not so great_, to "I might once have suggested that it is a good idea, but you will not be appreciated as a foreigner in Denmark. You will feel isolated, excluded and like an outsider. And you may fall in love with a Dane - and then you will be doomed unless your partner moves with you, away from Denmark.
12. I wish the foregoing were NOT the case.

Hi, I was reading and thinking what to do, as a I am potential applicant, and started searchin for reviews from foreigners who applied to Danish imigration. Don't you think that in any case when you appear in a new place new society and new people it would be the same, you will feel yourself as a stranger?

Add your voice