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As Denmark votes, I’ve a query: Am I welcome right here? | Politics

In early September I used to be touched to obtain a notice from the Danish Parliament, congratulating me on changing into a Danish citizen. It stated “Tillykke”, or “Congratulations”, and included a proper invitation to “Citizenship Day 2022” celebrations at Parliament.

This was a primary. Over the last decade that I’ve lived in Denmark, letters from immigration authorities notifying me that I had been granted a visa or residence allow had been removed from congratulatory. As a substitute, they included prolonged descriptions of the numerous methods by which I may lose the residency I had simply been granted.

In truth, a variety of anti-immigrant and anti-asylum legal guidelines in addition to an more and more xenophobic political discourse have usually made me really feel unwelcome.

Will that change as Denmark votes for its subsequent authorities on Tuesday in an election that pollsters predict will produce a fractured outcome? That is now my nation, however the good notice apart, does it actually need me?

The makings of an unwelcome setting

Denmark as soon as had a few of Europe’s most liberal immigration legal guidelines. Its 1983 Aliens Act gave the best of asylum to candidates whereas their circumstances had been being thought of and helped migrants and refugees reunite with their households in Denmark. These protections had been considerably weakened in subsequent years.

Denmark’s picture as a progressive and welcoming welfare state took a beating in 2005 when artist Kurt Westergaard drew a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, sparking outrage throughout the Muslim world. The Prophet Muhammad is revered by Muslims and any sort of visible depiction is forbidden in Islam.

On the time, the nation was dominated by the conservative Venstre social gathering, which relied on the assist of the far-right Danish Folks’s Get together (DPP) to remain in energy. After a authorities report in 2011 concluded that Denmark had saved $10bn in social advantages by tightening its asylum legal guidelines, the Venstre minister for refugees, immigrants and integration made it clear that he had “no scruples in additional proscribing those that one can suspect will likely be a burden on Denmark”.

By the point I arrived in Denmark in 2012, the tide seemed to be turning. A centre-left coalition led by the Social Democrats had gained the 2011 normal elections and the brand new prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, had promised to alter a number of the extra restrictive household reunification and asylum legal guidelines carried out by the earlier authorities.

But I quickly realised that the DPP was entrenched as an vital political participant, even out of energy, and xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant insurance policies had develop into a part of mainstream Danish politics. Thorning-Schmidt’s authorities really doubled down on restrictive insurance policies, together with in 2014 when it imposed powerful new guidelines concentrating on Eritrean refugees.

Pressured assimilation

I’ll always remember her 2015 New 12 months’s speech. Thorning-Schmidt declared, “Right here tonight, I wish to say loud and clear: Refugees should not develop into social welfare purchasers. In case you come to Denmark, you could, in fact, work. You have to use the abilities you’ve. You have to be taught the Danish language, and you could meet and blend with Danish colleagues. You have to see how we do issues on this nation.”

I felt a right away sense of hysteria afterwards. A lot of the main focus on the time was on the mixing of refugees. Nevertheless, the not-so-subtle accusation was that each refugees and immigrants will at all times be a burden on Danish society, and it was time for us to “fall in line”. We had irked the Danish state. Now, who we had been, what we spoke and what we did as “outsiders” was beneath better scrutiny.

Venstre, supported by the DPP, returned to energy in 2015. At the moment, Europe was witnessing a pointy improve in asylum seekers fleeing the conflict in Syria. Shootings in Copenhagen and different such assaults throughout the continent created an environment by which pushing by xenophobic insurance policies turned simpler for the Danish authorities.

Even the opposition Social Democrats, together with the present prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, backed the so-called Jewelry Law, which allowed the police to confiscate gadgets of worth from asylum seekers to cowl the price of their keep in Denmark.

The federal government suspended Denmark’s participation within the United Nations refugee resettlement programme and minimize advantages out there to asylum seekers by nearly half. In 2018, the federal government handed a law banning the burqa and niqab and launched a set of harsh measures and legal guidelines particularly concentrating on what it referred to as ghettos, socioeconomically deprived areas the place greater than half the inhabitants is of non-Western immigrant background. A brand new set of restrictions made Danish everlasting residency and citizenship appear to be distant desires and dealt a physique blow to these like me hoping to make a everlasting dwelling and life in Denmark.

Many of those restrictive measures, together with the “ghetto” plan, have continued beneath Frederiksen, who took workplace in 2019. Below these guidelines, individuals within the ghettos can face better punishment for some crimes than in the remainder of the nation. Her authorities has revoked residency permits of Syrian refugees, arguing that it was secure for them to return dwelling — though a few of these selections have been reversed following appeals.

Final yr, regardless of criticism from the UN, European Union and human rights advocates, Denmark additionally passed a law that may permit it to course of asylum purposes exterior Europe. An agreement with Rwanda was signed in early September this yr, shifting Denmark nearer to organising an asylum centre within the East African nation.

This isn’t to say that these insurance policies haven’t confronted criticism in Denmark. Thousands across the country have protested towards the deportation of Syrian refugees. Danish civil society and grassroots organisations have additionally labored tirelessly to mitigate the results of restrictive legal guidelines and measures on migrant communities.

However when an immigration minister celebrates new entry restrictions with a cake or when a member of Parliament suggests that safety forces ought to shoot at boats of undocumented migrants, it’s exhausting for me to really feel at dwelling. When a politician says migrants should celebrate Christian festivals to be considered as “Danish” or when DPP posters that learn “our Denmark” and have an image of an all-white household are plastered throughout Copenhagen, I can not assist however marvel if I’ll ever be welcome on this nation.

Hope glints 

In the mean time, surveys counsel that the Danish citizens is extra involved about inflation, the power disaster and the conflict in Ukraine than migration. Anti-migrant rhetoric often peaks earlier than elections. It hasn’t felt as virulent this time.

Nevertheless it’s at all times round within the background. Denmark’s plans to arrange the asylum centre in Rwanda and a proposal by conservative events to permit aged residents to refuse assist from dwelling caregivers who put on headscarves have been on the airwaves.

It’s been unattainable to disregard the distinction between the welcoming attitude that Denmark has proven to Ukrainian refugees, in contrast with these from exterior Europe.

Nonetheless, I have to hope for a special and higher future pushed much less by ignorance and hate and extra by compassion. For migrants searching for a greater future. For refugees fleeing conflict and destruction. For all those that now name Denmark dwelling.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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