Denmark has come under scrutiny internationally last year, as the Danish government under prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen implemented a series of laws intended to make Denmark an unattractive country for migrants to counter the refugee crisis.
In August 2015, benefits of refugees and immigrants in Denmark were cut by 45% and renamed an “integration benefit”. The Danish government also chose to publicize these decreased benefits by running ads in Lebanese newspapers. The overall message of these advertisements has been seen by many to be “Don’t come to Denmark!”.
The international view of the Scandinavian countries has been that they are open countries with generous, welcoming immigration policies for refugees.
As the Syrian refugee crisis hit Europe during 2015 and 2016, the welcome culture started to wane as the influx of refugees taxed the immigration systems of small countries. Previously immigration friendly countries like Sweden and Norway started tightening up their immigration policies in light of the refugee crisis and border checks were introduced.
Denmark has posed as one of the countries at the forefront of the increasingly hostile attitude towards immigration in Europe. But is that reputation deserved?
Refugee Crisis: The Right -Wing Rises
During the past decade and a half, far right-wing parties have had a steadily increasing influence on Scandinavian politics. In Denmark, that party is the Danish People’s Party (DPP). What makes them different from many other far right-wing parties in Europe, is that while they have a strong anti-immigration stance, they lean more towards the middle of the political spectrum on many other issues. They are supporting the Rasmussen government and have been a driving force in pushing for stricter immigration laws.
Their close ties to the government have helped make the debate around anti-immigration policies much more accepted. In comparison, Sweden’s Sweden Democrats (SD) are shunned by all other parties because of their stance on immigration and their roots in Neo-Nazi groups in the country.
Lessons from the Past
A decade ago, Denmark became the symbol for European anti-Islamism following the debacle of the so-called Muhammad cartoons published in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. In what was officially intended as an exercise of free speech, 12 satirical cartoonish images of the prophet Muhammad and Muslims were printed.
These images caused an outcry in many countries after a delegation of Danish imams published a pamphlet containing the images and several more, some of them falsified or taken grossly out of context, and distributed it during a visit to the middle east.
Denmark was the target of protests across the Muslim world and suffered boycotts and the closing of several embassies. Ever since then, the country has been high up on the list of countries under terrorist threat.
The Threat of Terror
Even though the threat of terror has been felt in Denmark, a full scale organized terror attack has so far not materialized. Terror plots were thwarted by police in 2007 and 2010 and as recently as April 2016 when four men who were reported to have been part a Daesh sleeper cell were arrested.
In February 2015, a 22-year-old Danish born man of Jordanian and Palestinian descent killed two people in separate shootings before he himself was shot and killed by police. While the perpetrator had sworn allegiance to Daesh online before carrying out the attacks, he had a history of non-religious gang-related violence before and many felt that religious fanaticism may have been an excuse more than a reason for a young man spinning out of control.
It is important to note though that, similarly to other terrorist attacks in Europe such as the big attacks in Paris and Brussels, the connection between terrorist activities in Denmark and the wave of refugees seeking asylum in the country seems slim to nonexistent. The people involved have been Danish citizens, not refugees with conenctions to the refugee crisis.
Denmark in Face of the Refugee Crisis — An Anti-Immigration Country?
Denmark’s immigration policies have come under heavy critique internationally. Laws making reunification of refugees with their families difficult have been called out for being in violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Other laws giving the government the right to seize property exceeding the value of 10.000 Danish Kroner from refugees in order to pay for the costs of asylum seekers has been met with similar critique.
While looking at Denmark’s policies after the refugee crisis, the country may at first glance seem to be growing increasingly xenophobic. However, it’s important to think of their situation in a broader European perspective.
The laws are not unique to Denmark nor have all of them been strictly enforced. Tightening of immigration laws has been commonplace throughout all of the EU due to the influx of refugees in the aftermath of the refugee crisis. Some countries like Hungary have sealed their borders completely.
The failure of EU states in working together to handle the influx of refugees has been the biggest problem during 2015 and 2016. As individual countries have become overloaded, the open borders of the Schengen countries have been closed.
The problem a small country like Denmark must face, sharing borders with the biggest destination countries for refugees, Germany and Sweden, is how to keep the number of asylum seekers at a level which their welfare system can handle, while still maintaining respect for the basic human rights of people escaping war and prosecution.
It seems that, as Europe deals with the largest amount of displaced people the continent has seen since World War II, the latter part of that equation has become less and less of a priority.