Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has announced that her government intends to significantly limit the number of people seeking asylum in Denmark. The aim, she said, is to preserve "social cohesion" in the country.
Frederiksen's comments, which many have welcomed, and others have dismissed as empty promises, are the latest salvo in a long-running debate about multiculturalism and the role of Islam in Danish society.
Denmark, which has a population of 5.8 million, received approximately 40,000 asylum applications during the past five years, according to data compiled by Statista. Most of the applications received by Denmark, a predominately Lutheran country, were from migrants from Muslim countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
In recent years, Denmark has also permitted significant non-asylum immigration, especially from non-Western countries. Denmark is now home to sizeable immigrant communities from Syria (35,536); Turkey (33,111); Iraq (21,840); Iran (17,195); Pakistan (14,471); Afghanistan (13,864); Lebanon (12,990) and Somalia (11,282), according to Statista.
Muslims currently comprise approximately 5.5% of the Danish population, according to the Pew Research Center. Under a "zero migration scenario," the Muslim population is projected to reach 7.6% by 2050; with a "medium migration scenario," it is forecast to hit 11.9% by 2050; and under a "high migration scenario," Muslims are expected to comprise 16% of the Danish population by 2050, according to Pew.
As in other European countries, mass migration has resulted in increased crime and social tension. Danish cities have been plagued by shootings, car burnings and gang violence. The increase in crime prompted the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen to issue a security alert due to spiraling gun violence in the Danish capital.
On January 22, during a parliamentary hearing on Danish immigration policy, Frederiksen, a Social Democrat, said that she was determined to reduce the number of asylum approvals:
"Our goal is zero asylum seekers. We cannot promise zero asylum seekers, but we can establish the vision for a new asylum system, and then do what we can to implement it. We must be careful that not too many people come to our country, otherwise our social cohesion cannot exist. It is already being challenged."
Frederiksen, who has been prime minister since June 2019, also said that "politicians of the past" were "thoroughly wrong" for failing to insist that migrants must integrate into Danish society.
Pia Kjærsgaard, a long-time member of the Danish People's Party who is well known for her opposition to multiculturalism, countered that Frederiksen had actually implemented a series of measures to ease, not tighten, immigration policy:
- Frederiksen agreed to allow refugees to remain in Denmark as long as they have a job.
- She agreed to allow asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected to remain in Denmark.
- She agreed to EU-mandated annual refugee quotas.
- She removed the residence requirement for entitlement to unemployment benefits.
- She introduced a new child allowance that, according to Kjærsgaard, overwhelmingly goes to immigrant families.
Kjærsgaard told parliament that the government's leniency risked sparking another migration crisis:
"The Social Democrats have eased immigration policy, and I think that is a pity, because we agree on foreign policy in many areas. Unfortunately, I believe that the easing will result in an increase in the number of asylum seekers in Denmark once the Covid-19 crisis is over. We can only look at the Canary Islands, which is now being flooded with refugees. The question is whether we will experience a new migration crisis, similar to the one in 2015, when the corona crisis is over."
The Danish People's Party, in a statement, added:
"We note that, after decades of efforts, immigration to Denmark, especially by refugees and through refugee family reunifications, has been reduced. At the same time, we note that society is in many respects negatively affected by this immigration, which changes our country forever. We therefore note the need to establish that refugees and their families must return to their home countries whenever possible, and that the legislation and the efforts by authorities in Denmark must actively support this.
"We further state that Danish immigration policy since 1983 has meant that too many people with a Muslim background live here who cannot or will not adopt Danish values and traditions but will maintain values that are miles away from the Danish ones and that challenge Denmark culturally, religiously, in terms of employment, economics and security.
"We therefore call on the government to take initiatives that encourage refugees living here with their families to return home as soon as possible."
On January 21, Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye, in an interview with Jyllands-Posten, stressed that immigration policy is an important component of a larger struggle of values:
"A large part of Islam in Denmark today is represented by extremists. The fight against Islamism is about the survival of the welfare state. Denmark must not adapt to Islam. Islam must adapt to Denmark."
In recent years, Denmark has announced a number of measures aimed at promoting integration and discouraging mass migration.
In January 2021, for instance, the Danish government introduced draft legislation requiring all sermons and homilies preached in places of worship to be translated into Danish. The move was immediately criticized by both Protestants and Catholics as discriminatory and potentially unconstitutional. Thomas B. Mikkelsen, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance Denmark, said:
"The law aims to protect our community from the growth of radical Islamism, but the law will probably not be effective in that regard. Radical groups tend to establish themselves on the margins, in a parallel society, and never apply for official recognition. I do not think a new law will affect them in any way."
Anna Mirijam Kaschner, spokeswoman for the Nordic Bishops' Conference, said:
"This law is directed primarily at Muslims — its proponents say they want to prevent parallel societies and things being preached which no one else understands and could be used for radicalization and calls for terror. But all church congregations, Jewish congregations, everything we have here in Denmark — 40 different religious communities — will be placed under general suspicion by this law....
"This law is only the latest in a long series of control measures by the state. It will have no consequences for radical Muslim religious communities, since they're not even recognized here, but it will affect smaller communities, including the Catholic church."
In October 2020, the government proposed a new Repatriation Law to ensure that more rejected asylum seekers were sent home. At least 1,100 rejected asylum seekers in Denmark do not have the right to reside in the country, and more than 200 rejected asylum seekers have remained Denmark for a more than five years. The measures include paying failed asylum seekers 20,000 Danish kroner (€2,700; $3,600) to leave the country.
In September 2020, the government created a new ambassadorial post and a task force to work to establish migrant reception centers in third countries outside of the European Union — in Libya, Tunisia or Morocco.
Also in September 2020, the government proposed an amendment to the Foreigners' Citizenship Act that would deny Danish citizenship to Danish jihadists — so-called foreign fighters. Cabinet Minister Kaare Dybvad said:
"The government will go to great lengths to prevent foreign fighters who have turned their backs on Denmark from returning to Denmark. We are talking about men and women who have committed or supported outrageous crimes. Therefore, it must also be possible in the future to deprive them of their citizenship."
In June 2018, the Danish Parliament approved a ban on Islamic full-face veils in public spaces. The law, sponsored by the center-right government in power at the time, and backed by the Social Democrats and the Danish People's Party, passed by 75 votes to 30. Anyone found wearing a burka (which covers the entire face) or a niqab (which covers the entire face except for the eyes) in public in Denmark is subject to a fine of 1,000 Danish kroner (€134; $163); repeat offenders could be fined 10,000 Danish kroner. In addition, anyone found to be requiring a person through force or threats to wear garments that cover the face could be fined or face up to two years in prison.
Muslims greeted the new law with defiance: A dozen women dressed in burkas and niqabs sat in the visitor's gallery at the parliament in Copenhagen. One of them said: "Under no circumstances will I compromise my principles."
Then-Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen responded that "some people do not want to be a part of Danish society and want to create parallel societies with their own norms and rules." This, he added, proved the need for a burka ban: "We want to live in a society where we can see each other in the eyes. Where we see each other's faces in an open democracy. As Danes, this is the way we must be together."
In January 2016, the Danish Parliament adopted several measures aimed at reducing the number of asylum seekers arriving in Denmark:
- The reintroduction of the requirement that only refugees with the highest potential for integration into Danish society be accepted.
- An increase in time requirement to three years for family reunifications for asylum seekers.
- An increase in time requirement before the awarding of permanent residency status.
- Additional integration requirements, including the ability to prove language skills, before permanent residency can be attained.
- Permanent and temporary residency status were made easier to lose.
- The introduction of fees to apply for family reunification and to convert temporary residence permit to permanent residence permit.
- A 10% reduction in economic aid to asylum seekers.
- Police were given power to confiscate from asylum seekers items of value to support the cost of their stay.
- Asylum seekers were required to live in special housing centers.
Meanwhile, former Danish Immigration Minister Inger Støjberg, who gained notoriety in the previous government for her role in writing the rules above, which are among the most restrictive in all of the 27-member European Union, now faces a federal lawsuit for illegally ordering the separation of underage asylum seekers.
In February 2016, Støjberg, who served as minister from 2015 to 2019, ordered that all asylum-seeking couples be separated if one or both of members of the couple were under age 18. The rule was to be implemented without exception, even if the females were pregnant.
Støjberg, of the center-right Liberal Party, said that her decision to separate couples was based on a January 2016 article by Berlingske, a national daily newspaper, which reported that so-called child brides were being accommodated in Danish asylum shelters. She said that she was motivated by the desire to protect girls from being forced into marriage before they are adults.
In a May 2016 Facebook post, Støjberg wrote that she intervened after discovering that a 16-year-old Syrian "child bride" was cohabitating in a Danish asylum shelter with a 50-year-old man. Støjberg's multicultural critics accused her of fabricating the story.
Under Danish law, each couple's situation must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Støjberg's blanket order to separate all underage couples — which affected a total of 23 couples — was deemed unlawful by a parliamentary ombudsman after an unidentified Syrian couple complained.
The ombudsman reported that at least 34 underage girls, roughly half of whom were pregnant, were found to be cohabitating with adult men in Danish asylum shelters.
The evidence suggests that while Støjberg's order to separate couples under the age of 18 may have been technically unlawful, it does appear that the legal actions being taken against her are motivated by a political vendetta against someone who has had the courage to take politically incorrect action against the abuses of mass migration.
On January 24, in her final speech as vice president of the Liberal Party, Støjberg was unapologetic:
"The Liberal Party must deliver a clear, credible and strict foreign policy. It requires that we also dare to say and do the things that are not only right but controversial. Not only in words but also in action. It requires that we do not back down because the left wing and all those with politically correct attitudes are upset.
"We must not forget for even one second that we are in a struggle of values every single day."