EDITORIAL: Policy package from S is unjust and unrealistic

The new proposal on integration and asylum from Danish Social Democrats is based on a negative attitude and a hopeless idea

Nobody will wholeheartedly defend the existing asylum system, which is in many ways unfair, random, and full of unnecessary risk and expenses. There is a clear need for new solutions. Therefore it's so sad that the basic idea of the new policy package (in Danoish only) from the Social Democrats is completely unrealistic and not well considered – and not even a new thought. Martin Lemborg wrote about it here back in 2015: European asylum colonialism.

It immediately makes you think: Did they not discuss this idea about Danish asylum assessment in Africa with a single expert on this subject before releasing a 40 page program under great media attention? True; policy is also about visions and thoughts, and everything doesn't have to be examined into detail in advance. But seriously – one would expect a certain portion of realism from a party like Social Democrats?

Only one page out of the 40 is about moving asylum assessment – the rest is about the numbers, development aid, integration, allowances and much more. And some of the proposals on the integration area are quite reasonable. There is clearly a need for better distribution of new and old Danes in schools and residential areas. And much more can be done to stop social control and extremism. But most of the proposals have a negative starting point and are based on punishment and consequences. This is depressing, and not necessarily efficient.

The idea of a Marshall plan to Africa and more fair economic options for the continent are positive – this is very much needed, and it's about time that somebody has the courage to propose it. More money to UNHCR would also be great – but I want to see it before I believe it.

Danish center in Africa

But back to Danish asylum assessment in a not specified "North African" country… aha, Morocco, Tunesia or Egypt…? And then the problems start piling up:

Why would for instance Morocco agree to house a Danish asylum camp?
There are enough African migrants and refugees in Morocco already. Now they would also be receiving a number of Syrians, Afghans and Iraqi, who happened to find their way into Denmark. Morocco is not dependent on Denmark. It will be very, very expensive to pay our way out of this. And how can we morally dismiss our responsibility to find room for our share of the world's refugees?

• Will it be possible to ask for asylum at the gate, so to speak? Or only via Denmark?
In the proposal it only says that the ones who turn up in Denmark will be flown to the reception camp. But one of the main arguments in the introduction is to avoid the dangerous and lethal smuggling routes into Europe. How does that make sense?

• Who is supposed to make the actual assessment?
According to the proposal the cases will be handled "in the same way as it happens today in Denmark" and "according to Danish law", not to mention the conventions. Oh, so all of Danish Immigration Service's asylum department together with most of the Refugee Appeals Board (including a number of national court judges) will move permanently to Morocco! This would give a totally new dimension to the government program of moving state jobs from the capital to the province. if this is not the plan, it would be nice to see a solution on how to find a large number of qualifies case workers and interpreters who are able to determine an asylum case according to Danish legal standards. And I could also mention that the average case handling time is 8-12 months in the efficient Denmark, so there will be no "short stays" such as the proposal describes.

• What happens after a decision has been reached?
In the proposal it says laconicly: "if they are refugees, they will be handed over to UNHCR, who will either ensure their protection, either in a local UN camp or in the country where the camp is situated". Oops, not sure that neither Morocco nor UN are into this idea! And it goes on: "are they migrants, they will be returned to their home countries." Okay – and who will take care of this transport? Returning rejected asylum seekers from EU is not really going well, so why would this be easier from Morocco? And who has the authority to do that, by the way? And if the recognized refugees are only handed over to one of the UN camps which are already there today, why make the Danish reception camp in the first place?

The program is comparing the expense for 10,000 asylum seekers in Denmark to 600,000 refugees in Kenya – may I propose a visit to the Dadaab camp? A really ridiculous comparison. The reason why it's so "cheap" to take care of refugees in the neighboring areas is that they are not taken care of! 80% of the world's refugees live in enormous tent camps in the desert, horrible slums or in shacks or basements of locals. They survive, but they don't have a life. It's not dignified, and there is no future in it.

The list of hindrances and questions is endless. And Politiken has made a long list of similar proposals, from Danish as well as foreign politicians, which have all been dismissed as impossible during the last 30 years. In short, it's completely hopeless.

In stead, Social Democrats should spend their energy on supporting and developing a realistic solution in collaboration with EU and UN. Built on the resettlement program, but with a more equal asylum assessment within the EU, where the varieties are far too big today, and with an intern distribution system based on more equal socio-economic rights. Absolutely not an easy thing to agree on, but the only way there is.

Numbers and integration

Most of the proposal is about limits to how many we can receive in Denmark, because people from non-Western countries are a problem culturally and economically.  A very disappointing focus, with lots of contradictions and stupid comparisons along the way. 

Already during the last election campaign Social Democrats had a slogan saying "When you come to Denmark, you must work". To this day I have never met a refugee who would not agree with the obvious truth in that. On the contrary I have met numerous refugees who have asked me for help to find a job.

In the proposal is a comparison of employment between Danes (75%), Vietnamese (63%), Lebanese (35%), Somalis (28% and Syrians (11%). The only thing this shows is, it takes a number of years to find your way into the Danish labour market!

Social Democrats doesn't want to accept spontaneous asylum seekers because that leaves the weakest ones behind. But at the same time, the proposal holds a demand that everybody must work or be in job training 37 hours per week, and the right to certain benefits must be earned. Where does that leave the weakest ones? And all those internships and job training positions requires a reform of the labour market – maybe that would actually be a better idea to engage in?

The party is very concerned that the new people must learn Danish values and be able to support themselves, and "nobody should feel like a stranger in Denmark" – but at the same time, they all have to go back as soon as possible! However, in a subordinate clause they acknowledge that conflicts are usually long lasting – that's true, and therefore we need to understand that refugees will stay here, and see them as a long term investment. It's a scandal that Denmark as a result of a law introduced by the Social Democratic government in 2015 is about to revoke the residence permits of 600 Somali refugees and return them to a totally unstable country, now that they have finally learnt our language and many have jobs.

It's presented as a horror vision that Denmark over the next 3 years will probably be receiving 10,000 persons through family reunifications. Not mentioned in one word that the vast majority of family reunifications for refugees are children – and that young Danes with non-western background are streaming into gymnasiums these days, and have a far better ability to rise above their social level than young ethnic Danes. We can get great benefits from these children and teenagers, if we give them a good reception and a safe upbringing. One would imagine they could contribute to the Danish welfare system?

The road to better integration is making the new ones feel as an active and equal part of the Danish society. This is not achieved with 1-year residence permits, impossible demands for permanent stay and citizenship, special rules and discrimination, force and punishment – or by constantly talking about the new inhabitants as a problem.

It was clearly a mistake to leave people to themselves on welfare benefits, as it was done once. But that's long time ago! Actually the integration process for the refugees who arrived in recent years is working quite well. The mandatory language school, activation program and job training have proved to be efficient – refugees want to learn Danish, and they want to work. And it's a good thing that refugees are evenly distributed among the municipalities. Many businesses need them, and we need thousands of students in the vocational schools. The 8% of the Danish population with non-western background should be seen as a fresh injection to an aging people. And we can easily receive more, as long as it's been done in the right way.

Take good care of Denmark

But the negative stories and statistics are dominating the media and the politicians. A vicious spiral and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Remarkably, a public survey showed last year that twice as many would answer Yes to the question "is immigration a problem in Denmark?" as the number who would agree with "is immigration a problem for you in your local area?". People have a negative image of immigrants in general, but the ones they meet in person are quite okay.

Dansk Folkeparti feeds on exaggerating the problems with integration, and at last they have admitted that they are not in favor of integration at all. If it works, DF doesn't have a project. But Social Democrats don't have to jump on board this ship. They should rather focus on making the beautiful words in the introduction of their new program work through inclusion and fair demands.

Most of the recently arrived refugees whom I speak to are asking for more information and knowledge about the history and culture of the Danish society. They have a strong wish to make themselves useful, they want to make an effort and live up to fair demands and requirements, they feel grateful for the things Denmark has given them and they like the Danes. But at the same time they feel ostracized by politicians and media, they feel they don't get a fair chance and they feel constantly afraid because their residence permit is hanging by a thread.

It's not a good starting point for the unification of Denmark which Social Democrats want. We need more planning and regulation around schools and housing projects, yes. But this also goes for Danish citizens, and the main problems are not cultural but social. We need more focus on social control and negative cultural patterns, yes. And democracy should always come before religion – yes, but then let's start by making Denmark a secular state like Sweden, and dismiss the special status of the State Church! Then it would be possible to build up a healthy, Danish version of Islam.

Politicians often have a need for presenting tough, harsh solutions to make an impression on the voters. But these solutions are rarely working in the real world. Several housing areas have been straightened out through a coordinated social effort – these are the experiences we should build on. As Social Democrats write in the proposal themselves: it's not naive to want to help others, and you are not a bad person for wanting to take care of your country – but Denmark and Social Democrats are exactly examples of collaboration, respect, freedom, positive incitements, public information and a high level of trust. This is what we need to take care of, also when new citizens are arriving!