Corona crisis has severe negative consequences for refugees

Refugees are hit even harder than others in Denmark, and the government could do much more for them

The closure of Danish society affects refugees especially hard in a number of ways. Many of the negative consequences could be reduced if the government made special considerations for this vulnerable group.

Areas of concern:

Refugees with a residence permit in Denmark:

• The government has not facilitated translation to other languages of information and guidelines about contamination. This means that refugees are probably more afraid and in doubt, and as many are traumatised, it can affect them seriously. At the same time, it can lead to more contamination of and by refugees, as we have seen in the poor neighbourhoods in other countries. In Sweden, a large part of the dead are refugees. NGOs and a certain hospital department have on their own initiative translated the most important information into 25 languages and opened a hotline – the latter financed by a private foundation. Three weeks after lockdown of Denmark, the government announced a special information project focused on people from non-Western countries living in the social housing projects, but this target group is too narrow. All information should continuously be translated to the most common languages and distributed on the official homepages, e-Boks and public service channels.

• Integration efforts are put on hold, and language schools, job training, job centres and public libraries are closed. These places are often the only contact to Danish society for newly arrived refugees, meaning that they become even more isolated than other groups. There is a need for contacting refugees and instructing them in how to use digital alternatives.

• Refugees are often taking unskilled jobs on the Danish labour market, they often work without a contract and they are less likely to have unemployment insurance. Their attachment to the labour market is in general more insecure and affected by changes, which means that many refugees will lose their jobs now. Refugees should be included in the special aid packages.

Children of refugees and young refugees have a harder time at school, as they can't get the same help at home as Danish children. Many also have holes in their school background due to war and flight. Socially they are more vulnerable than other children, and many express a feeling of loneliness. All of this is even worse now. Danish Refugee Council and DFUNK have established special offers of online support for homework during the school lockdown for children and young refugees, but it's probably only a small part of the children who hear about it.

• Refugees without a job rarely have access to full social benefits (kontanthjælp), and rarely the right to unemployment insurance benefits (dagpenge). They will most often receive the very low benefit for refugees, selvforsørgelses- og hjemrejseydelse, which means a life in severe poverty, with very little left every month after paying the rent. The Corona crisis means that even more will end up on the low benefit. These low benefits should be abandoned, as the positive effects are very small, and the negative are overwhelming. The Danish Institute for Human Rights has criticised the benefits to be in breach of the constitution as well as human rights.

• One of the requirements to obtain permanent residence permit is having held a fulltime job for 3 1/2 out of the last 4 years, and still holding the job when the application is processed. Many will lose their jobs due to the Corona crisis, and then no longer live up to the demands. If you receive social benefits for just one month, you must wait another 4 years until you can apply again. The job requirements should be suspended for the period where Denmark is affected by the Corona crisis.

• To obtain Danish citizenship, you must get permanent residence permit first, and live up to a number of other criteria as well. One of the purely symbolic demands is to shake hands with the mayor at the ceremony, but this is not possible during the Corona crisis. Instead of just disregarding this demand, the whole issuing of citizenships was cancelled at first. However, the minister has recently made the good decision to suspend the handshake and issue the citizenships after all, to both the ones who were cancelled and the next group, in total 2,700 persons.

Asylum seekers in Denmark:

Asylum centres have banned all visitors, and there are no interviews with Immigration Service, meetings with the Refugee Appeals Board or transfers to other countries following the Dublin rules. All asylum cases are on hold, and the centres are now even more isolated than before. The planned moving of families with children from Sjælsmark to Avnstrup is postponed. Changes have been made to limit contamination, but the inhabitants are still not allowed to make their own food, and many must share toilets and showers. All rules and demands that could increase contamination should be avoided, and meaningful activities allowed.

• The Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee urged in January the Danish government to close Ellebæk and Nykøbing Falster Arrest, which are used for detaining asylum seekers. The committee criticised the physical conditions in the two prisons and found them unfit for humans, but they also reminded the state that asylum seekers should only be held in detention as a last resort, when everything else has been tried. Denmark detains people as a "motivational measure". During the Corona crisis, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner has suggested all countries to release asylum seekers and migrants in detention, as there is a high risk of contamination in the closed facilities, and no logical argument for keeping them there, as long as there are no flights leaving for their home countries. Danish minister Tesfaye has dismissed this, saying that it will be up to the judges. However, the government can easily decide that detained asylum seeker should be released whenever possible and moved to normal asylum camps.

Refugees in the world:

• Refugee camps in the whole world typically consist of tents, where people live close together with totally inadequate hygiene facilities.t is impossible to follow the instructions against Corona virus in such places, making the camps ticking bombs. Not least the Moria camp in Lesbos, on EU territory, is an enormous risk for its inhabitants, who already had serious health problems before the Corona threat, but also for the populations of Europe. It is obviously necessary to move everybody out of the unacceptable camps and install them under reasonable conditions all over Europe. There is extra capacity, for instance in Denmark, seeing the lowest number of new asylum seekers for 8 years, with many half empty camps.

• Rejected asylum seekers often end up living as paperless in the European metropoles. They can no longer sell things to tourists or clean dishes in a restaurant. They can no longer pay for a roof over their head, and they are not allowed to live in the streets. During the present lockdown, France and Italy demands a paper with a permission to leave your home and go shopping – this is not available if you don't have a residence permit. A kind of amnesty should be given, and free shelters should be established all over Europe, giving this group access to health care and to cover their basic needs such as food.