Most Danes do not realize how extensive the negative discrimination of foreigners in Denmark has become. Here is a short overview.
Michala Clante Bendixen is chair of Refugees Welcome and editor at REFUGEES.DK.
Brought in Danish newspaper Politiken on February 11th 2019 (in Danish).
Denmark has just become a member of UN Council of Human Rights. As a Dane, I should be proud of this, and it could be a nice opportunity to be a good example for other countries. Our society is known as a place where equality and respect for individual freedom is highly acknowledged, and where a stable democracy and a trusted legal system does not accept unfair treatment and discrimination.
This is unfortunately not the reality. An increasing amount of complaints against Denmark is taken to the UN Human Rights Committees, and many end up voting against the Danish state. Also, the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg has several times found Danish laws to be in breach of the articles, lately the special 26-year rule in family reunification cases. The reaction form the Danish government and the Social Democrats is: then we must re-write the conventions or diminish the power of the court. In the preparation files for some of the new laws it has been directly mentioned that we are aware of a certain risk of violating human rights. We insist on the right to discriminate – especially against foreigners living in Denmark.
The World Declaration on Human Rights has its 70 years anniversary this year, and the first two articles go like this – you judge, if they are out of tune with our time and should be revised:
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
The UN Convention on Refugees says that refugees should have same rights and same opportunities as the country’s own citizens.
The European Convention on Human Rights says that it’s illegal to discriminate because of gender, ethnicity, religion, age etc.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children must be protected against discrimination.
The UN Convention on Women’s Rights says that women must not be discriminated.
Discriminating legislation against refugees/immigrants
Changes and tightenings of the Danish Alien Act have been done since 2001, with small and large steps. Some have been discussed vigorously, others have passed unnoticed. The result is a patchwork of rules which when interacting with each other make everyday life basically different for Aisha than for Anja.
In my everyday work as a legal counsellor for refugees, I am often contacted by Danes who are not aware of how these tight rules work in practice – and they usually get quite shocked when they stumble upon them. Based on this, I question whether there really is a broad, public support to the present policy on foreigners? Yes, there is a broad support to demands on learning Danish language and becoming self-supporting – also from refugees and immigrants themselves. But not everyone is able to do that, no matter how hard they try. And I don’t believe that the majority supports direct discrimination and unfair treatment.
The list below is not a picture of a ‘fair but tight policy’, it is a division of people into ‘them and us’, where we are met by a different set of rules and opportunities depending on whether we are natives or not. A few rules will also affect a small number of ‘us’, but that’s clearly unwanted collateral damage. There are Danes receiving the low integration benefits, yes – but they only make up 2%.
Family reunification: Two Danes can marry and move together as they like – and their children can of course stay with them. But this is not the situation for all the people who happen to have foreign background or fall in love with one who has – in that case, a long line of requirements must be met, concerning economy (bank guarantee of 100,000 DKR), education and language skills at a certain level for both, own place of residence above a certain size, permanent job, and you must undertake the economic support of your foreign spouse. For some refugees, there is even a 3 years quarantine period before you can apply to be reunited with your spouse and children. Many children are rejected on questionable arguments of being ‘not possible to integrate’, or on the grounds that the child can stay with a grandparent, aunt or others. As family reunified you are totally dependent on your partner – you can’t move or get a divorce without the consequence of leaving the country.
Education: Refugees and family reunified normally have the right to free education and government study grant (SU). But one third of the refugees who have been granted asylum in Denmark after 2015 (around 4,000) must pay for their education. They have the special article 7(3) status which is used mainly for women – and in this way presents a double discrimination in practice.
Unemployment insurance: A new law has just been passed. It holds a new demand for 7 years stay in Denmark to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefit, including new graduates – even if you fulfil the criteria and paid to the insurance for years. And the alternative to this is not ‘kontanthjælp’, the normal social benefit, but the much lower integration benefit.
Integration benefit: An unemployed person who has not been living in Denmark for 9 out of the last 10 years will only receive half of the normal social benefit. The law even has certain exceptions for Danes who have been living abroad. New tightenings are cutting down the amount for parents after 3 years. The Danish Institute of Human Rights has recently published a report, documenting that a large part of the families living on this benefit lacks money for food, medicine and other basic needs. This is in contradiction to the Danish Constitution as well as illegal discrimination.
Children’s benefit: Newly arrived refugees and immigrants do not have the right to full children’s benefit but will earn the right gradually over 6 years – though their children cost exactly the same as Danish children. Combined with the integration benefit, this leads to many more foreign children than Danish children grow up in severe poverty, percentage wise. At the same time, there are only two rates: provider or non-provider, so families with many children have much less per child.
Old-age pension: The right to old-age pension from the state is only acquired after 40 years stay in Denmark – which refugees and immigrants can’t live up to if they arrive as adults. As a consequence, they are facing a retirement in poverty, though they might have worked many years and paid their taxes in Denmark. Refugees used to be exempt from this demand, but this has been changed some years ago.
Self-payment for translation in the health sector: After 3 years in the country, foreigners must pay for a translator, if their Danish is not sufficiently good – which only few are after this period. Many elderly refugees/immigrants will never be good enough to have an advanced dialogue with a doctor. In relation to an operation, the expense for translation is typically around 1,400 DKR. According to the Danish Medical Association this poses a risk for wrong treatment of everybody who are not fluent in Danish and do not have the money to pay for translation. The law is new but has already led to several cancelled operations. Ethnic minorities do not have equal access to health as a result of this law.
Women exposed to violence: Foreign women who are beaten up by their husbands, risk losing their residence permit if they get divorced or move out, and ethnic minorities are even overrepresented at crisis centres. So here we see a double discrimination, ethnic and gender-wise.
Permanent residence and citizenship: As a native Dane you never have to worry about being thrown out of your own country, and it's easy to get a passport so you can go on vacation or school trips. But a large number of children and young ones who have grown up in Denmark (maybe even born here) only have temporary permits to stay and foreigner’s passport. This means that they often have trouble travelling abroad, and they may lose their residence permit one day. Adults without Danish citizenship risk expulsion even for minor offences, and a refugee status can be revoked even after many years.
Democracy: Without Danish citizenship (one of the hardest to get in the world) you can’t vote at national elections and you can’t hold a job as e.g. police officer or civil servant. The requirements to get permanent residence and citizenship are very difficult to meet, and a rising part of the population therefore has no security and no democratic influence, though they have lived here a large part of their lives. Today only one out of four immigrants/refugees have Danish citizenship, and on average it has taken 16 years to achieve it.
Crime: Even minor offences as speeding tickets, possession of marihuana or shop lifting leads to many years of quarantine from permanent residence and citizenship, on top of the actual sentence. The new, double sentence system for appointed ‘ghetto areas’ mainly affect ethnic minorities, as one of the criteria to get on that list is a large percentage of ethnic minorities. More serious offences lead to eternal exclusion from permanent residence permit or citizenship, and even a sentence for being part of a bar fight can lead to expulsion from the country or many years in a deportation camp. For a Dane, it has no consequences apart from the actual sentence to commit a crime – except for the fact that it might be hard to find a job afterwards, which also is true for a foreigner. A Danish member of an MC gang comes out of prison one day, but a member of an ethnic street gang is thrown out of Denmark, even if he was born here. A man who was a gang member in his young days and now works in a social project, trying to get others out of it, is excluded from Danish citizenship.
The ‘ghetto deal’: One of the criteria for a residential area to get on the so-called ghetto list is the number of persons from non-western countries. The new deal gives double sentence for crimes committed in the area, residents are excluded from family reunification, and the bi-lingual children lose their children’s benefit if they are not enrolled in nursery from the age of 1 year. These rules are especially targeting ethnic minorities.
Religion: Christianity (protestant) is state religion in Denmark. Church tax is charged from the state, all new-born children had to be registered in the local church office until 2010, public schools teach Christianity instead of religion, the parliament has its own church where all members attend service when it opens once a year, only Christian holidays are official days off work/school, there is only a state approved education for Christian priests, the ministry dealing with this is called Church Ministry. In the new media agreement for Danish state radio and television, the word ‘integration’ has been replaced with ‘Christianity’. All these things give an advantage to Christian protestants, and a more difficult situation for other religions. Sweden is for instance a secular country, where the church is not favoured.
All the areas that I have mentioned are directly managed by the law makers and the administration. In this way, it is a formal and more or less deliberate kind of discrimination. It limits access to family life, health, education, income, democratic influence, and it means tougher consequences of crimes and less freedom.
But on top of this almost all refugees and immigrants are also met by the discrimination which all of us expose others to in our daily life. Many research results have shown that you will be last in line for both jobs, apprenticeship, apartment and discos if your name does not sound native Danish or you don’t look like your ancestors were Vikings.
A few examples: My friend Isam from Sudan was together with one other dark-skinned class mate the only two who were not able to find apprenticeship during their vocational training education. My friend John from Uganda has been called a monkey by a colleague in a large metal workshop during an argument on where the crane should go. I have personally been rejected in the door to a Copenhagen night club in the company of 5 Eritrean friends. Telemarketing companies advise their salesmen with ethnic minority background to use a Danish sounding name instead of their own when calling customers. Most refugees and immigrants hold jobs far below their level of education, because they have trouble finding jobs within their field.
As a refugee/migrant you are constantly met by negative references in the media and prejudiced attitudes from many Danes, not least politicians. Parts of it is not meant to be harmful, but the experience as a total becomes very tough. Several of my refugee friends have stopped watching the news because they can’t stand the negative image of themselves.
Everybody now agrees that ‘integration has failed’. The proof to support this idea is the fact that our new citizens are less educated, less employed, have lower living standard, lower income, poorer health, the young men are more criminal. Roughly speaking and on a short sight this is correct. But the only solution politicians can come up with is “demanding things” from refugees and migrants. Somebody forgot that integration goes both ways.
The combination of structural and social discrimination is an important part of the explanation for why so many of our new citizens are still in many ways on the lowest shelve in society. When looking at all the areas where foreigners have poorer opportunities than Danes, it should not come as a surprise that they perform a little bit lower in general? We should also add to the picture that many refugees carry traumatic experiences and a deep sorrow with them, and they were forced to leave their home country – something a Dane can’t possibly imagine. And as a newcomer, logically you are disadvantaged when it comes to language, culture, network etc. On that background it is quite impressive that young women from ethnic minorities have surpassed Danish women when it comes to education, and that more than half of new refugees are fulltime employed after 3 years. But the government does no longer wish to integrate refugees, now it’s all about sending them back “home” as soon as possible.
Many of the refugees I know, say to me: ‘We are grateful to be here, and we want to work hard, but we feel like we never get a fair chance. No matter what we do, it’s never good enough – and we will always be treated worse than Danes.’
Are they right?