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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 18:18 GMT
Denmark sails into immigrant row
Little Mermaid statue, Copenhagen
Denmark is sending wrong message to the world, say campaigners
By the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Copenhagen

Denmark's newly-elected coalition government is facing growing protests over a series of proposed new measures aimed at reducing immigration.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees wants assurances that Denmark will continue to comply with international standards for accepting asylum seekers.

Immigrant organisations have accused the government of promoting racial hatred.

But the minister responsible for the new laws insists they are fair and designed to improve racial integration.

Denmark used to offer immigrants one of the most generous welcomes in the world.


We have the highest asylum acceptance rate in the world probably - what we would like is simply to come down to Swedish or even to British levels

Immigration Minister Bertel Haarder
But the reception has become distinctly cooler since the country took a sharp turn to the right in the last election, as voters protested against the high taxes that pay for Denmark's attractive social security benefits.

Under the new proposals, refugees may find it harder to be accepted here.

"We have the highest asylum acceptance rate in the world probably. What we would like is simply to come down to Swedish or even to British levels," said Bertel Haarder, the newly-appointed Minister for Immigration.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish PM
Danish PM says immigrants will still be treated fairly
One of the other key points of the government's package of measures is that social benefits may be cut by up to 30%.

The government says immigrants can make up the deficit by working.

It argues that high unemployment amongst ethnic minorities is one of the main reasons why so many either reject or remain outside Danish society.

To great derision from opponents, it claims that this is a genuine attempt to break down racial barriers and help the process of integration.

'Anti-immigrant climate'

"We want to make a more inclusive society. That's what this is about," said Mr Haarder.

"Because we see our welfare state deteriorating and developing vast areas where people simply have no incentive to work, where children grow up and maybe grow criminal because the values of their parents and of this society never get integrated."

But campaigners say an anti-immigrant climate is being created.


In fact our borders have been quite open - I think what has happened before has been a national catastrophe

Soeren Krarup
Peoples' Party
"What we are seeing is that Denmark is sending a very unhappy signal to the rest of Europe and to the rest of the world," said Mohammed Gelle, chairman of Denmark's Ethnic Minority Alliance.

"The signal they are sending, which is very nationalistic and inhuman, shows animosity to the foreigners at the same time as creating an atmosphere of hate in society."

The new tough policies are, it is said, being driven by the conservatives' partners in the coalition government, the right-wing People's Party, who sing patriotic songs before their parliamentary gatherings.

Soeren Krarup, the People's Party MP for South Jutland, would like to go even further by repatriating refugees once it is safe to return home. But for the time being, Mr Krarup is satisfied with the changes.


We'll have everybody thinking that people coming from abroad will be a problem, not a resource - but we actually need some labour in Denmark

Anti-racist protester
"In fact our borders have been quite open and the foreign policy looks like foreign invasion. I think what has happened before has been a national catastrophe," he said.

At a small protest in Copenhagen's main square, demonstrators expressed their alarm at the direction of policy - and said Denmark might now be perceived as a country where racism could prosper.

"We'll have everybody thinking that people coming from abroad will be a problem, not a resource - but we actually need some labour in Denmark," said one of the protesters, social worker Margerita Devita.

But the government says it would be wrong to write off Denmark as a humane society.

It insists that welfare of immigrants will remain among the most generous in the world and that it will honour its obligations under international conventions on refugees and asylum seekers.

See also:

27 Nov 01 | Europe
Denmark gets tough on immigrants
22 Aug 01 | Europe
Danes criticise immigrant list
09 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Denmark
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