58 researchers: Conditions at Sjælsmark are symbolic politics with extremely harmful effects

A number of researchers within sociality, culture, migration, health, refugee issues and children’s lives express sharp criticism towards the departure centers

Behind the initiative:
Sandra Lori Petersen, postdoc, Københavns Universitet
Anja Simonsen, adjunkt, Københavns Universitet
Lotte Buch Segal, lecturer, University of Edinburgh

Karen Fog Olwig, professor, Københavns Universitet
Allan Krasnik, professor, Københavns Universitet
Edith Elise de Montgomery, aut.psykolog, ph.d., dr.med., Københavns Universitet,
Trine Brinkmann, adjunkt, Københavns Professionshøjskole,
Laura Gilliam, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet  
Eva Gulløv, professor mso, DPU, Århus Universitet,
Kirsten Hastrup, professor emeritus, Københavns Universitet,
Nina Grønlykke Mollerup, postdoc, Københavns Universitet,
Susanne Bregnbæk, lektor, Københavns Professionshøjskole,
Mie Plotnikof, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet,
Dorthe Staunæs, professor, DPU, Århus Universitet,
Marie Høgh Thøgersen, forsker og klinisk psykolog, DIGNITY, Dansk Institut mod Tortur,
Nana Vaaben, docent, Københavns Professionshøjskole,
Jannick Friis Christensen, Ph.d.-stipendiat, Copenhagen Business School,
Crisstina Munck, lektor, Københavns Professionshøjskole,
Iram Khawaja, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet
Steffen Bering Kristensen, Ph.d-stipendiat, DPU, Århus Universitet
Dan Hirslund, lektor, Københavns Universitet
Julie Rahbæk Møller, lektor, Københavns Professionshøjskole,
Linda Lapina, adjunkt, Roskilde Universitet
Helene Gad Ratner, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet
Hanne Kirstine Adriansen, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet,
Dil Bach, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet,
Anne Hovgaard Jørgensen, Ph.d.-stipendiat, DPU, Århus Universitet,
Gertrud Lynge Esbensen, postdoc, DPU, Århus Universitet,  
Holger Højlund, lektor, Copenhagen Business School
Rikke Andreassen, professor mso, Roskilde Universitet
Justine Grønbæk Pors, lektor, Copenhagen Business School
Jan Kampmann, professor, Roskilde Universitet
Natalie Marie Gulsrud, adjunkt, Københavns Universitet
Karen Valentin, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet,  
Stine Grønbæk Jensen, Ph.d.-stipendiat, Syddansk Universitet
Tina Gudrun Jensen, forsker, Malmö Universitet
Camilla Ida Ravnbøl, postdoc, Københavns Universitet
Kristine Ringsager, adjunkt, Aalborg Universitet
Peter Danholt, lektor, Århus Universitet
Kathrin Houmøller, adjunkt, Københavns Professionshøjskole
Claus Bossen, lektor, Århus Universitet
Peter Lauritsen, professor mso, Århus Universitet  
Finn Olesen, lektor, Århus Universitet
Amanda Karlsson, ph.d.-stipendiat, Århus Universitet
Line Lerche Mørck, professor mso, DPU, Århus Universitet
Marie Louise Nørredam, professor, Københavns Universitet
Signe Hvid Thingstrup, lektor, Københavns Professionshøjskole,
Lasse Blond, forskningsassistent, IT-Universitetet
Mante Vertelyte, ekstern lektor, Roskilde Universitet
Garbi Schmidt, professor, Roskilde Universitet
Tore Holst, ekstern lektor, Københavns Universitet
Jette Kofoed, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet
Helle Stenum, ekstern lektor, Roskilde Universitet
Louise Lund Liebmann, postdoc, Roskilde Universitet
Christopher Jamil de Montgomery, Ph.d-stipendiat, Københavns Universitet
Susanne Jacobsen Perez, ekstern lektor, Roskilde Universitet
Matthew Carey, lektor, Københavns Universitet
Kathrine Vitus, Lektor, Aalborg Universitet i København
Birgitte Romme Larsen, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet
Malou Juelskjær, lektor, DPU, Århus Universitet

During the election campaign, the deportation centre Sjælsmark was once again the centre of discussion. Politicians are claiming that parents in Sjælsmark are “holding their children hostages” in an attempt to avoid leaving the country. As researchers of sociality, culture, migration, health, refugee issues and children’s lives we are convinced that it is not the parents but Danish politicians who are holding children and adult rejected asylum seekers at the deportation centres Sjælsmark and Kærshovedgård hostages to unworthy and deeply harmful symbolic politics.

We strongly urge that existing research and experiences from professionals who are in close contact with refugees is taken into account when new legislation on conditions for people – and especially children – in the Danish asylum system is drafted.

In deportation centre Sjælsmark approximately 150 children, their families and other rejected asylum seekers are living under restrictive conditions with the purpose of enhancing their motivation to collaborate on returning to their country of origin. As early as 2013 a report from the Danish Institute for International Studies pointed out that experiences form Denmark, Holland and Norway show that these “motivation enhancement measures” do not have the desired effect. Danish police officers, Red Cross employees and scientists who are in direct contact with rejected asylum seekers share that impression. This is described by The Research Collective for Free Movement in a report from 2018 in which it was documented how rejected asylum are in practice kept legally stranded in deportation centres indeterminately, when they do not collaborate on returning to a country where they fear persecution and do not consider it possible to offer their children a life in safety.

The latter report furthermore supports existing research documenting that the “motivation enhancing measures” harms the mental health of those who are forced to live under them: These incentives contribute to creating an everyday characterized by anxiety and uncertainty, and they give rejected asylum seekers an experience of being criminalized and of losing dignity. Research from DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture in 2016 documented that difficult and stressful living conditions in a so-called safe host country can be as debilitating for the psyche as violence and abuse connected to acts of war. Similarly, new research documents that a lack of influence over one’s daily life and future undermines the motivation and ability to take initiatives for children in asylum centers in general. The desperation of the adults influences the children, and the environment is characterized by adults without the emotional capacity to intervene and regulate the socializing of the children or attend to the psychological needs of individual children.

A recent report produced by psychologists from the Red Cross who have examined the mental well-being of 56 children and their parents residing in Sjælsmark suggests that these circumstances are to a great extent true in Sjælsmark and is exasperated by the deadlock situation these children and their families are in. The report documents that 80 % of the children are likely to or might get a psychiatric diagnosis if they were assessed. In the rest of the children 45 % show signs of mental dissatisfaction. The comparisons of the report with earlier research clearly show that the children in deportation centre Sjælsmark are significantly worse off than children in other parts of the asylum system.  

We therefore join the numerous voices that have already criticized deportation centre Sjælsmark and point to the fact that neither from a scientific viewpoint does it have any eligibility. On the contrary, Danish politicians should recognize that their responsibility for the welfare of the child regards all children in Denmark and requires a safe environment and dignified family lives.