Monday, March 26, 2007

Last notes on Denmark

Immigration has been one of two significant themes of this trip so far, the otherbeing taxation. Most of the Danes refer to it as the immigration problem. I finally had to say it’s not a problem, immigration is good too, what can you tell me about the benefits to your society about immigration?

One person, from the radical left, did say that the media were doing more stories sympathetic to immigrants and refugees, showing how isolated they live and the discrimination they face when trying to seek jobs.

Taxation was a big theme too because people are taxed about half their income. In return, they receive free health care, free education including college, and many other benefits. Immigrants are a touchy issue because they comprise about 8% ofthe population but 30% of the welfare recipients. You can see why Danes are a bit upset about immigration.

However, the flip side is that immigrants are discriminated against in the jobsector. The Danes we spoke with openly said that people with non-Danish names don’t get job interviews. So immigrants cannot get jobs and then are blamed for not working. Clearly the Danes have a long way to go in figuring this out. In their defense, I have to note that they did not have any significan immigration until 40 years ago. To their credit, they are open about acknowledging that they could be more proactive in helping immigrants become intergrated instead of just thinking that it will automatically happen.

Finally, we met with the Danish Red Cross which resettles asylees and a representative of the Danish Refugee Council. If I understand this correctly, in Denmark, asylum seekers are housed at the Red Cross facilities until their cases are heard and they receive their papers to stay in Denmark. Denmark wants to keep them separated and not integrated into the larger society in case they have to be deported. They have families who live in the Red Cross compound for years before they get permission to stay.

After they receive their papers, it is the responsibility of the individual municipalities, such as the city of Copenhagen,to resettle them, such as find them housing, jobs, etc.

Flora Ghosh from the Danish Refugee Council spoke about many things, but what I think is most relevant to RWN is the fact that most resettlement/integration activities are only about getting people jobs, but not socially integrating immigrants and refugees. They are housed in areas separate from Danes, and even if they get jobs, it’s things like cleaning offices after the workday is done, so immigrants still don’t have any Danes to interact with.

There were many statistics given about immigration, integration, the second generation of immigrants, employment, and so on. What is disturbing is that refugees are being accepted based more on their potential for integration and less on humanitarian needs.

Also the needs of refugee and immigrant women are not being discussed, except as victims of non-Danish cultural practices, such as honor killings. Refugee and immigrant women are viewed as victims by immigrant men and this creates a wedge between the genders and creates more barriers for integration.

Only a handful of refugee and immigrant women are represented in governing bodies and none are in executive positions. This definitely resonated with me as RWN was created to develop refugee and immigrant women into leaders.

There is much more I could write about, such as meeting Flemming Rose, the editor of the newspaper that published the Mohammed cartoons that sparked intense protests in the Muslim communities across the world, the issue of Islamophobia, and the issue of human trafficking in Denmark. However this post is long enough and I have to move on to my meetings in Rome, Italy and my thoughts so far on my meetings in Belgrade, Serbia.

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