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Denmark Imposes New Restrictions on Immigrants

Nyhavn, a waterfront district and popular tourist destination in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Lars Plougmann / Flickr Creative Commons)

Denmark is requiring residents in 25 majority-immigrant enclaves to send their children to mandatory Christian and Danish values classes or risk losing their welfare benefits. It’s the latest in a series of immigrant-restricting proposals not only from the Danish government, but from far-right politicians across Europe who are revising government policies regarding immigrants.

In June, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban implemented the “Stop Soros” law (named after Hungarian philanthropist George Soros), which bans individuals and organizations from providing aid to undocumented immigrants. As Vox explains, “ [The law] is so broadly worded, that, in theory, the government could arrest someone who provides food to an undocumented migrant on the street.”

Also in June, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini proposed a census of the country’s Roma population, drawing parallels, as CNN observes, “with race laws approved during the regime of Benito Mussolini.” It’s not yet a law, but as Al-Jazeera reported Sunday, local authorities cleared a Roma camp of  approximately 450 people shortly after Salvini called for the census.

Denmark’s laws, however, are particularly striking, both in terms of how they target specific areas based on immigrant population, and in the severity of punishments for noncompliance, which in some cases can result in jail time or loss of the country’s extensive welfare benefits.

The Danish government, The New York Times reports, is “introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.”

The series of laws, also known as “the ghetto package,” includes proposals to double jail time for certain crimes committed in the neighborhoods and to punish parents for sending their children on long trips to their country of origin. One proposal that was rejected for being too radical would have banned certain immigrant children from the 25 enclaves from being outside their homes after 8 p.m.

The proposal requiring mandatory Danish and Christian values education, however, was passed by the Danish parliament last month.

From the time children are 1 year old, the Times explains, they “must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in ‘Danish values,’ including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.”

Danish Minister of Education Merete Riisager explained the reasoning behind the law to The Copenhagen Post, saying, “There are a number of parents who come from the Middle East who have a totally different understanding of pedagogy, childhood and school than their Scandinavian counterparts.”

In addition to Danish and Christian education for preschoolers, Time magazine reports that 5- and 6-year-old students in 24 Danish schools will be “ ‘guinea pigs’ for a new policy aimed at integrating non-Western immigrants into Danish society. From 2019, it will become law for schools that take more than 30 percent of their students from “ghetto” areas to force their students to take language tests.”

Denmark has long struggled with how to balance its generous welfare state, intended to serve a small, mostly white, Christian population, with an influx of immigrants, many of them Muslim. The white Danes the Times quoted were as supportive of these new laws as they were disparaging of immigrants.

Anette Jacobsen, a retired pharmacist’s assistant, praised the welfare benefits that gave her and her four children free education and health care, saying that  “she felt a surge of gratitude every time she paid her taxes,” but maintaining that she and other white Danes are deserving of Denmark’s benefits, unlike immigrants, who Jacobsen believes abuse the system. As she explained, “There is always a cat door for someone to sneak in,” and, she continued, “their culture doesn’t fit here.”

Never mind that, as Rokhaia Naassan, a daughter of Lebanese refugees and a resident of an affected neighborhood told the Times, not only does she speak fluent Danish, she talks to her children in Danish, so much so that her children’s grandparents complain that they can’t talk to their grandchildren in Arabic. In addition, Naassan and her sisters said, they’d move out of their neighborhood if they could afford to.

When they were growing up, the sisters said they rarely encountered Islamophobia. Now, Rokhaia’s sister Sara wonders, “Maybe this is what they always thought, and now it’s out in the open.” She added, “Danish politics is just about Muslims now. They want us to get more assimilated or get out. I don’t know when they will be satisfied with us.”

 

 

 

Ilana Novick
Blogger / Editorial Assistant

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