Denmark: Not so happy now

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A few thoughts after being interviewed by RTE (Irish radio, which you can listen to here) about Denmark’s decision to confiscate jewellery and cash worth more than 10,000 Danish Kroner (£1,000) from refugees. Today the Migrant Bill passed through Danish Parliament, despite international opposition. It also means that asylum seekers have to wait three years before they can ask to be reunited with family members.

The Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, has described it as the “most misunderstood bill in Denmark’s history.”  The argument goes that if unemployed Danes aren’t allowed assets before they seek benefits, why should anyone else. Interestingly, it wasn’t just those on the right who voted yes – even many centre-left Social Democrats agree this is a fair policy. And with 70% of Danes putting immigration as a top concern, there is widespread public support towards efforts to curb immigration.

Outsiders seem shocked that ‘welcoming, liberal’ Denmark can be so tough. But the reality is, they don’t care what others think. Danes say they need to protect their borders and their small country of 5.6 million people. But it’s a far cry from the ‘Happiest Country in the World’ name tag that Denmark has enjoyed for so many years.

Copenhagen: Are Refugees Welcome?

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Crowds gather outside Christiansborg

I’ve just got back from a ‘refugees welcome’ rally held outside the Danish Parliament, Christiansborg, in Copenhagen. The police tweeted that around 30,000 turned out and it certainly felt packed.

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Police estimate 30,000 gathered

It’s been a strange week for Denmark. Most outside this country of just over 5.5 million, think it’s a liberal, welcoming state. At times the reality is markedly different. Anti-immigration adverts placed by the Danish government in Lebanese newspapers and around Danish asylum centres on Monday, didn’t help. These warned people that benefits for new asylum seekers had just been slashed in half and that family reunification was not guaranteed. They’re already making it increasingly difficult to get citizenship here.

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Reporting for Al Jazeera English on Wednesday night

There was also the chaos on Wednesday night when train lines between Germany and Denmark were suspended in an attempt to try to stem the tide of refugees. Then there’s been the confusion over whether Denmark was registering asylum seekers here or allowing them to head straight for Sweden – something the Swedish authorities have been less than happy about. The truth is, refugees know they’re not welcome here and are so desperate to get over the bridge, they’ve been attempting to walk.

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Refugees Welcome banner

I’ve already blogged about how badly the Danish government dealt with this unfolding crisis last week. Communication began to improve a little this week. But it took a British official here to tell me that actually the Danish government has pledged millions more in funds to the UNHCR to help deal with the crisis. Politics is at play here. Venstre (the Liberals) has only managed to form a minority government, and is kept in power by the anti-immigration Danske Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party). Furthermore, Denmark is not part of the EU’s justice rules, which includes asylum, so does not have to agree to any quota on refugee numbers. No wonder ministers have struggled to deal with this crisis.

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Crowds listen to pro refugees speakers

It’s clear many Danes don’t take the same stand as their government. A number have been arrested for trying to drive asylum seekers into Sweden. Many have been donating food and clothes as well as volunteering to help those in need. And today, thousands showed the world what they really think – Refugees are Welcome in Denmark. It’s just their government doesn’t appear to be listening.