A magazine produced by asylum seekers and immigrants in Denmark > June 2009 > issue # 75
WORLD REFUGEE DAY
JUNE 20th: REFUGEES, THIS IS YOUR DAY! P3 CONGRATULATIONS: AFTER THE POSITIVE P4 CULTURE CLASH: SHE LOST HER CAT P6 IRAQIS IN THE CHURCH: ABOUT MICE AND MEN P8
Moral values Vs. legal responsibilities? In this issue of New Times we mark World Refugee Day and pay homage to all those who have courageously fled their homes because of war and persecution. Right now there are about 35 million displaced people in the world – 7 times the population of Denmark. About 12 million of them are officially recognized refugees because they have crossed an international border and 23 million are so-called ‘internally displaced persons’, or IDPs, because they are still within their own country. 80 percent of the world's refugees are women and children. (http://www. theirc.org - the International Rescue Committee). In ordinary everyday language we use the word ‘refugee’ in a general way to mean someone who has fled from their home, someone who has sought refuge – a safe place – somewhere. There is also the legal definition according to the Geneva Convention (the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees) to mean someone who has been given asylum because their life is in danger. The gap between the two meanings gives rise to moral and legal issues that we explore in this issue of New Times. In 2008, 1348 new refugees (i.e. successful asylum seekers) were allocated to municipalities around Denmark. In the same year, 951 new would-be refugees arrived in Denmark bringing the total number of asylum seekers to 2408, among them 302 unaccompanied minors. At the end of 2008 there were 665 people whose claim to asylum was rejected and in a so-called ‘return position’, of these 294 Iraqis. (Nyidanmark.dk) Under the Geneva Convention, governments have a legal duty to protect asylum seekers and to process their applications for asylum.
Published by: The Danish Red Cross Asylum Department
Editor: Ole Jeppesen
Correspondent from Brovst asylum centre: Cyprien
Editorial Office: Danish Red Cross Asylum Department H. C. Ørstedsvej 47 DK-1879 Frederiksberg C Denmark Email: email@example.com www.newtimes.dk Tel: +45 2334 5887
Staff: Ajmal, Anosh, Borys, Fouad, James, John, Kaosar, Katz, Khan, Mahammed, Nabila, Otman, Zenzo, Ziad
Layout: Jens Burau, supergreen.dk
Editor-in-Chief: Karen-Inger Thorsen New Times Coordinator: Patricia Brander
newtimes · June 2009
In job training: Hashan Usgalhewa, Ahmed Omar Volunteers: Abdulrhmann Bahaziq, Sarah Louise Madsen, Natasa Pokupcic Translation and editing: Patricia Brander, Ole Jeppesen, Natasa Pokupcic, Sarah Louise Madsen
Printed by: OTMAvistryk Distributed free of charge to: Danish Asylum Centres, ministries, members of the Danish Parliament, public libraries, asylum and human rights organisations, NGOs, media and individuals in Denmark and abroad. Subscription: If you would like to subscribe to New Times and receive copies by post, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no charge, subscriptions are free.
ASIG: You can book ASIG, the Asylum Seekers Information Group for presentations and discussions on asylum life – to take place at your school or place of work. Contact email@example.com. Support: This issue is supported by the Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs.
While waiting to see if they are going to be accepted as refugees, the Danish government has decided that all asylum seekers should live in asylum centres. The government also rules on other aspects of asylum seekers’ lives: access to welfare, spending allowances and access to education and training. The Red Cross as an humanitarian organisation also plays a leading role in helping refugees - wherever they are. Here, the Danish Red Cross asylum department cares for asylum seekers in Denmark. New Times hopes that after you have read this edition you will feel moved to help the world’s refugees in your very own way – and every day. Team New Times
The opinions expressed are those of the authors and the persons interviewed. DRC cannot be held responsible for any other opinions. All contributions are very welcome from readers and others who take an interest in the issue of asylum and human rights. The Editorial Board reserves the right to edit these materials according to editorial and space considerations. This publication is based on the Red Cross principles of humanity, independence, impar- tiality, neutrality, voluntarism, universality and unity. ISSN: 1397 6877
World Refugee Day part 1
Refugees, this is your day! Refugee day, June 20th, is a salute to the unconquerable spirit and courage of the world's refugees. By Khan and Anosh Just as we make a special effort to remember our mothers on mother's day we want the world's refugees to be remembered on their special day. In 2001, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees, the United Nation General Assembly decided that 20th June will be celebrated as World Refugee Day. Since then World Refugee Day has become an annual commemoration marked by a variety of events all over the world. Under international law a refugee is a person who "[...] owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it." (Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Chapter I) But the word refugee is also used in a more general sense to mean someone who is fleeing from danger and needs to find a safe place to stay – a refuge. People who are forced to flee their homes and lost everything, have clear needs for shelter, food and safety. But they also have Human Rights; the right to seek asylum, the right not to be returned to a country where they fear persecution, the right to work and to send their children to school. The eternal refugee New Times met Andreas Kamm, General Secretary of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), a private, humanitarian organization covering all aspects of the refugee cause. We asked him about the importance of the convention - then and now. "There have been refugees for as long as there have been wars but it was first after World War 1 that people began to accept that it should be the international com-
munity's responsibility to protect refugees and help them restore their lives. The first Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established within the framework of the League of Nations – and headed by Norwegian Fridjof Nansen," Kamm explained. He finds it "obviously important" to help the refugees, because they have no country to take responsibility for them. But they also need their rights defined: "Thus when the Refugee Convention was created after World War II another very important step was taken – to establish a kind of international legal status for refugees. It is now agreed that refugees not only should be helped, they should also have rights - the right to seek asylum, the right not to be sent back to persecution, etc. The signatory countries undertook - and committed - to respect the Convention and ensure the rights of refugees," he said. More important than ever According to Andreas Kamm many people thought that the refugee problems caused by World War II would disappear with the ’clean up’ after the war. But quite the contrary: "Today, worldwide there are around 12 million refugees and an additional 25 million so-called internally displaced persons (‘refugees’ in own country, Ed.). So the international obligation to assist refugees is more important than ever and the task is very far-reaching. Therefore it is important to maintain the Refugee Convention's principles and the commitment of the individual countries to operate in accordance with these principles. Without this community it will be impossible to solve the task - and it is surely in reality to say that even with the Refugee Convention, many of the world's refugees are not guaranteed protection and help. Unfortunately,” Andreas Kamm said. Celebrating refugee day It seems a strange idea to celebrate peoples' tragedies, and really: How do you celebrate a convention? Andreas Kamm said:
"'Celebration' is probably the wrong word. I think we should mark the UN World Refugee Day every year to highlight the millions of people who have had their lives shattered and now live as refugees. To pay attention to these people's destiny is one of the basic ways to help them. We have to be willing to spend resources on the project - and this willingness grows if we are many who know about the refugees’ situation. One can almost say that if you have met a refugee, and heard his/her story, yes, you will want to help.” What to do? Andreas Kamm did not need much time for reflection when we asked him how to deal with the worldwide refugee challenges. Obviously the most important thing is to prevent wars in the first place and better understanding between people, more equitable sharing of the world’s resources, respect for others and Human Rights are the only tools we have at present. At the same time we need to improve conditions for the world's refugees. "Quite generally, I think the solution is to use more force and resources to normalize the conflict zones where refugees are created. The so-called proximity efforts should be strengthened considerably. The vast majority of refugees are living in conflict areas. They want to stay there and therefore the help should be provided there." He continued after a short pause: "However, we must also be willing to assist refugees in Denmark - partly to demonstrate that not only the poor will bear the burden, partly to lift some of the most vulnerable groups out of conflict areas. The fact is that the survival of women with children, elderly and other vulnerable groups are extraordinarily difficult in areas of conflict and refugee flows. World is becoming quite ‘closed’ - it is difficult to cross our borders and refugees in many situations cannot escape from persecution. Therefore we must maintain our responsibility to receive more quota refugees in
Denmark and work to develop an EU-wide resettlement program. It would be a very significant contribution to a coherent refugee work in the world,” he said. Andreas Kamm is a proponent of coherence in refugee work: "Not all refugees can be helped in the immediate area and not all the refugees in neighboring regions can be ‘moved’ for protection in Denmark and other countries. So we must work with a combination. Most should get help ‘out there’ and the most vulnerable must be ‘lifted’ in security and receive help in our part of the world," he rounded off. Read part 2 on page 7
newtimes · June 2009
After The Positive â€“ Part I I just got positive. It was only five months since I applied for asylum. It is unbelievable. Asylum cases differ; some take more than a year due to lack of supporting evidence. Now, a new chapter of my life can begin.
newtimes Âˇ June 2009
By Ahmed Dharbaxo “I felt a sigh of relief and excitement filled my mind, I was psychologically changed the moment I received the letter from the authorities granting me residence permission.” Usually, an asylum seeker receives tons of official letters from different offices every month, most of the letters are sent by the job centre [the office in an asylum centre that deals with admin, education and training, Ed.]. In the asylum centres there is a notice board with a postal list that you have to check every morning. All the letters are in Danish and so you have to find someone to translate for you. Often, asylum seekers ask friends who know a little Danish to translate, but I was using a free Danish-English online translation website. One Thursday morning, I received a letter, I could see that the sender was the Immigration Service, but I was not sure what it was all about it until I pasted it to the translation site. ‘Nooooooo… I can’t believe it!!!!!!’ I copied it in again and asked the web to translate it again to be sure. Yes, the same result, it is about my residence permission. It is about NÆSTVED Kommune who will receive me. It is a legal description of the terms of my permit. It was also about the integration programme. That was on 2nd March 2009. The interim period Before the positive every asylum seeker looks forward to the time when they will have the right to work and study. They also expect that they will get more money in the
form of the monthly living allowance. When the day came, what first came to my mind was the family I had left behind and hopes for family reunification. After you are informed about the positive in your case, several things happen. Here, at Avnstrup Centre the Red Cross staff congratulate most sincerely; at the reception I received warm congratulations, in the office they got warmer. Here I handed over the security entry card, the keys to my room and the padlocks to my cupboards. An official meeting with the Red Cross officer at the centre followed for filling several forms and an interview about my personal history, career, education and hobbies. I also had to fill and sign a form for the Immigration Service confirming my full name, date of birth and nationality. On the form there’s space for your personal signature and square to put passport size photo. The Red Cross officer explained that it is for the residence permission ID, and asked me to send it back to the IS. In this meeting we also discussed a transportation plan – in my case how to move to Næstved and how much luggage I have and so on. The Danish Language test Before I moved to Næstved the Red Cross office in Copenhagen called me in for a Danish language test in writing and reading. The consultant explained that there are 3 tracks (or streams) in the Danish for foreigners' education; track one is for illiterate people, track 2 is for those who attended the basic primary education and track 3 is for those who had higher education in their original country.
The consultant informed me that I deserve to start with level 3/1 (track 3 level 1, Ed.) and results were sent to the sprogskole (language school, Ed.) to book me in on the right course. The integration programme The integration programme is a three year programme that provides several remarkable opportunities to the refugees. The aim is for new residents to learn and understand the language, law, culture and political structure of the country. Once you get the positive to live in Denmark you need to know much about the Integration law and opportunities. Almost everything you want to know can be found on the website www.newindenmark.dk (www.nyidanmark.dk). I strongly recommend every one who gets residence permission to visit the site, which is in several languages. From Copenhagen to the kommune [municipality, Ed.] Næstved kommune takes a number of refugees every year. Before you arrive the kommune has all your legal documents and C.V. so that they can plan to receive you. They organize a place for you to live and arrange your transportation and send the right sized vehicle that can accommodate your entire personal luggage. My first day in Næstved March 2nd, I got call from Mrs. June from Næstved Job Centre; she told me that she will meet me at the train station at 10 am. She advised that I should take the train that leaves Copenhagen at 9:03. She
also told me that Abdirahman, who also just got positive and is moving to Næstved, will also be on the train. Upon our arrival, June was there and showed us a very warm welcome. She took us to the Job centre and introduced us to Mr. Keeth (my contact person). Keeth is well-experienced and has been in Næstved for more than a decade. After a short briefing, Keeth and June took us to the Danske Bank and opened an account for each of us. We made quick city tour in Keeth’s private car until we reached Næstved municipality centre where we met people in the financial section and filled out several forms relating to financial and health matters. At 1:00 pm we came back to the Job Centre, where June and Keeth surprised us by inviting us to a lunch that they had pre-arranged. NGOs and luxury After a delightful lunch we had an introductory meeting with two women from Sam-X, a local NGO that is in partnership with the Danish Refugee Council. This group always welcomes the new arrivals and helps them discover the city sites and the shopping centres and also organizes weekly community meetings to help integration. SamX informed us that they also have some volunteers who give practice in Danish conversation. In the afternoon we continued the city tour to see the main facilities including our doctor’s premises. Keeth and June reserved no effort on this first day to meet our all basic needs. Eventually, they took us to our temporary residence at a
luxury tourist hotel named Karrebæksminde Feriecenter located on a small Island called Enø. Soon, after a week of rest and time to get settled, I started at Næstved Language School. This school teaches at various levels and has outstanding resources. It hosts more than 100 students who are committed to learning Danish. I would like here to emphasis that Næstved Language School has very experienced and professional teachers. I appreciate the eagerness of my first level teachers, Ingrid and Michail. They equip us with basic Danish sentences in just four weeks using remarkable teaching techniques which strongly attract the attention of all participants. Now I am able to speak with Danish people! In part II, Ahmed will take you to more in constraints faced in Næstved kommune, the family reunification policy and the challenges his family have experienced at the Danish Consulate in Addis Ababa. Read the follow-up in the next issue of New Times.
New Times is very sorry to report that
Sameer Algamal died last month. Sameer, from Palestine came to Denmark in 2001 and was granted asylum in 2006 when he moved to Næstved. He was a leading figure in New Times and ASIG for many years. Without his contributions, New Times would not be what it is today. We send our condolences to his family.
newtimes · June 2009
she lost her Cat
When different cultures meet and mingle, remarkable things can happen. James, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, brings you his take on life in denmark. follow our series, 'it's a funny world' at www.newtimes.dk - and get your first dose here. By James I met a girl at Nørreport station. She looked so beautiful but something seemed to be the matter with her as she was crying. I went close to her with deep concern and asked her, "Hey young lady why are you crying?" She answered me that she had lost her cat. "A cat????" "Yes," she replied and she continued to narrate the story of her beloved cat to me, "My cat was under someones car and when the owner started the car, he didn't know that there was a cat under the car, so it got run over and died on the spot; here it is in my hands" Wow! I took a closer look at it. Sure, 'twas dead with blood coming out of its mouth. I asked as to what should be done to the dead cat, having been brought up in a culture where there almost exists no animal rights. I thought that maybe we should throw it on a rubbish heap and that would end the story. When I shared to her what I thought, she cried even the more and told me,
"No, could you kindly escort me to my back yard and help me bury it?" Off we went, but when we got there she said that she wouldn't bury this cat because it was too special for her. So I brought on a new suggestion: "Maybe let's prepare this cat as a meal, and since you wouldn't like to bury it, you eat it and it becomes part of your body and you will live with it where ever you go". She said: "No! But I got an idea. I will keep it in my deep freezer for posterity". I said "okay" and while I was getting ready to leave she suddenly said, "No, lets instead have a last funeral party for my cat!". And since I had been hungry the whole of the day, I agreed quickly and we had a party that healed all my hunger. Later I continued on with my adventurous walking routine.
advisers at dansk flygtningehjælp answer your questions about asylum and the law
LEGALLETTERS I recently got positive and now want to start the process of family reunification so that my wife and children can join me. However, my eldest two are girls aged 19 and 21 so they are not eligible to join me under the rules for family reunification. But how can I leave two girls alone in Somalia? It is not safe, they need protection. Please will you advise me about how I can bring my eldest two children to Denmark?
As you probably know, the Danish rules of family reunification state that a child has to be below the age of 15 to be reunified with parents in Denmark. However, there can be specific situations where the best interests of the child lead to the granting of family reunification even if the child is above 15 years of age - for instance if the child is left without relatives or network
newtimes · June 2009
in the home country and the rest of the family is in Denmark. Your children are above the official age limit of 18 years and are therefore considered grown ups, so they will have to apply for asylum on their own grounds (which can be difficult because they can only do that in Denmark) or apply for a residence permit according to section 9 c, 1 of the Danish Aliens Act which includes special situations.
I live with my wife (also an asylum seeker) and our child in an asylum centre. I have recently got positive. Will my wife and child be able to live with me in the kommune?
Congratulations on your positive. If you and your wife and child entered Denmark simultaneously, your wife and child will be granted asylum based on your case. If they entered on a later date than you it will be a question of whether your
marriage existed before the flight from your home country. If that is the case your wife and child will probably also be granted asylum based on your case. That means that you will all be kept together as a family and be able to live together in your kommune. If you were married after the flight from your home country your wife and child will always have the right to apply for family reunification with you if they are not granted asylum along with you.
We are two asylum seekers who recently got married (to each other!). It was a religious ceremony. Will the Danish authorities recognise our marriage? If not, do we have rights because we have been living together? Do these rights differ from the legal rights that Danes who live together unmarried have?
In order for the Danish authorities to recognize your marriage it has to be legally binding according to Danish legislation. A merely religious ceremony is not. However – if you have been living together for at least 18 months you will have the same status in regards to the Danish Aliens Act as if you had been formally married. That means that you, for instance have the right to apply for family reunification. Before you are granted asylum it makes no sense discussing any other rights that married or unmarried couples have in Denmark.
ask us have you got any questions? Write to: ■ new times c/o Red Cross House H. C. Ørstedsvej 47, 1879 Frederiksberg C Or email us at: newtimesdk@ gmail.com Please feel free to ask your questions anonymously. You can also contact: ■ dansk flygtningehjælp Legal Councelling Unit Asylum Department Borgergade 10 Postbox 53 1002 København K www.flygtingehjælp.dk Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Free legal counselling for asylum seekers every Wednesday from 13:00 – 15:00 You need to present your questions in Danish or English.
World Refugee Day part 2
It takes Courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. By Khan and Anosh As ordinary people living peaceful lives, we rarely have to put our courage to the test. Refugees are ordinary people too. Except through no fault of their own they find themselves in extraordinary circumstances as much they are often required to dig deep into their own inner resources of strength in order to find the ability to overcome fear. Initially that fear may be the immediate one of trying to escape the horrors of war and persecution, the pain of losing homes and loved ones and ordeal of flight. Later the deeper anxiety of uncertainty arrives, the worry of how to rebuild their lives either in completely new circumstances or back home where they now may not be welcome. Yes, it does take courage to be refugee; courage not to give up hope and to make the most of the hand that has been dealt them, courage to start a new life against daunting odds and eventually to become a contributing and enriching member of society once more. Let’s celebrate this courage and mark the World Refugee Day! A different life One of the ways to mark this special day is to pay respect to the key figures: the refugees themselves. New Times interviewed Salman who is a refugee in Denmark: “Being in a totally different country and culture was very hard in the beginning; everything was
completely different. No friends, no family. I worried about everything: the present and even more about the future. But now after more than 10 years here in this country everything has changed. I have changed a lot- not just because I have become older and I got more gray hair... But now I am an international citizen. I live here in Denmark. I finished my studies as a kindergarten teacher and I speak the language - more or less. I am married to a Lithuanian woman. We have summerhouse in Lithuania and many friends around the world. For me Denmark is the place which gave me the opportunity for all these great things which have happened to me since I came here," Salman said.
"They didn’t get the same chance as I did. I got away from war and dictatorship. But at the same time I feel even more sad when I see refugees who do not respect the refuge they have been given. But actually, ‘refugee’ as a word does not exist in my head any longer. I believe it’s just a term for politicians. Of course every person has the right to find a better place for his children and to build his own dream now that the world is like a small global village. But it’s still an illusion, and that’s why we should mark Refugee Day to work together to make the change from illusion to beautiful reality," Salman concluded.
I belong nowhere "Frankly, I don’t fell that I belong here and definitely I don’t belong to my homeland, Iraq any more. Now I feel and consider Denmark and Lithuania more home than Iraq, but without the sense of belonging. I just feel so good in those two countries. I feel so lucky that I got this chance to get away from war and hate. But sometimes also I am tired being here, especially when ethnic Danish people talk about ‘us and them’. In those moments I feel that hate again - and I remember that Denmark isn’t perfect. But then again: Do perfect places exist? I don’t know." Salman feels sad about the millions of refugees:
newtimes · June 2009
About Mice and Men In early May Birthe Rønn Hornbech, Integration Minister, announced that the
Danish and Iraqi governments had made a repatriation agreement and that all the 282 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers must return, by force if necessary. On www.newtimes.dk you can read our continuous coverage of events. Below follows a selection of opinions and views as gathered by our reporter. By Katz In Nørrebro, in inner Copenhagen, we find the Brorsons kirke, which has lately come into the limelight and is now a focal point in both local and international media. 60 or so Iraqi asylum seekers are using the church as a safe haven. You will find the young, the old and the children all in this place which is about 200 sq. meters. They came to the church on the evening 17th of May. “They can stay as long as they want because, that is what was decided by the church board meeting which was held on the evening 18th of May” says the priest, Mr. Per Ramsdahl. New Times talked to some of the Iraqis living in the church. Shalaw, 23 who has lived in Denmark for 3 years comes from Kirkuk in Iraq. Shalaw was denied asylum and so he is among those that are to be sent back to Iraq. He had this to say: “I am not here because I want to be here. I can’t go back to Iraq because I know I will be killed. It’s like me walking myself to my death. Iraq! How do you dare send anyone back to such a country? It is all destroyed and there isn’t any safe place in Iraq.”
Fact: U.N. revises refugee guidelines for Iraq Reuters Tuesday May 05 According to Ron Redmond, UNHCR spokesman: Some Iraqis sheltering abroad may begin to go back to the calmer regions, but should not be forcibly repatriated or encouraged to leave all at once. The improvement of the situation in Iraq does not yet constitute fundamental change sufficient to promote or encourage massive returns to Iraq. Return should be considered strictly on an individual basis after due consideration is given to the security situation in the area of return. Governments should avoid repatriating Iraqis to parts of the country they did not originate from, and to exercise caution with the return of people to southern areas. Iraqis from the provinces of Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh which includes the city of Mosul, and Salahuddin are not being encouraged to return home yet.
newtimes · June 2009
Most dangerous place According to the latest report from Global Peace Index (http://www. visionofhumanity.org) Iraq is the most dangerous place on earth. Shalaw told me: “It doesn’t matter who you are, - you are not safe in Iraq. Despite its rich history and its oil reserves, it is a ruined nation that is wracked with violence, despair and confusion. Since 2003, 2 million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries and another 1.9 million in Iraq remain internally displaced. Truly, a hell on Earth,” he said. The dangers are recognised by the Iraqi government, which advises Danes not to travel to the country: “On Wednesday 20th May 2009 the Ministry of Iraq updated its travel advice to Iraq, and continues to rec-
ommend not to travel to the country. At the same time the Department encourages all Danes to leave the country. This is the toughest warning given in the travel advice.” (Jyllands posten, 20.5.2009) Kirkeasyl Joakim, from Sweden but living in Denmark and working with Kirke asyl, a group set up almost 6 months ago to prepare for such an eventuality, told New Times: “The Danish government has put so much pressure on the Iraqi government to have these 282 Iraqi asylum seekers back in Iraq. If it was to continue to receive the annual 10,000,000 dollars worth of aid, then the Iraqi government had no option but to accept the rejected asylum seekers back.”
Unmoved Despite the media attention and criticism, the Immigration Minister, Birthe Rønn Hornbech was unmoved by the Iraqi protest and said that their actions would not affect the legal outcome of their case, "The most they [the asylum seekers in the church, Ed.] can achieve is to be irritating. The repatriation will be prepared regardless of this action. We have an agreement with Bagdad and it will continue as it should,” said Rønn Hornbech, to the Politiken newspaper. On the other hand, lawyer, Helge Nørrung in an interview with New Times said: “We have destroyed these people physically and many of them are also destroyed psychologically; we have treated them directly contrary
to the 2004 advice of the United Nations not to stress these people, not to put any pressure on them to return. But we did it anyway. If Denmark had listened to the United Nations, or read the Refugee Convention, we would have given a lot of them asylum, or may be another kind of protection, including the right to work; this would have saved resources.” Christian Conscience Christianity gained a foothold in Denmark as early as 826 AD and is the official national religion. Per Ramsdahl said: ”I am happy that the asylum seekers came to us because every Sunday I preach about loving thy neighbour, helping people who are going through a hard time, feeding
the hungry, and I believe those are not meant to be empty words but that we need to put them into practice and that is what we are doing now. We are simply practicing what we preach.” Lawyer, Helge Nørrung also emphasised the Christian ethic in his interview with New Times: ”I believe we are people who have a conscience, we are Christians, we have one thing in common with all religions: respect for fellow human beings. I know there are extremists in all religions even in Christianity. So having good manners and good education, we cannot simply bear to treat these people like we do.”
Fault lines in the system All the rejected Iraqi asylum seekers feel aggrieved that they have not been given asylum. A Danish immigration lawyer explains some of the problems with the system. By Katz
The man, the mouse, the hen, the goat and the cow Once upon a time there was a man who was tired of the mouse who lived in his hut, so one night he set a trap for it. When the mouse saw the trap, he called the hen to help him get rid of the trap, but the hen said, “no”. So the mouse went to the goat and the goat said, “it is not my problem” and wouldn’t help get rid of the trap. So the mouse went to the cow who also refused to help. Later, in the still of the night, a snake crept into the trap and was caught. When the man heard the trap snap shut, he knew he had caught the mouse and came to pick it up to put it outside. But because it was dark he couldn’t see, and when he touched the trap the snake bit him and he died. Early the next morning the neighbours gathered. In order to perform the first funeral ritual they slaughtered the hen. Then as more villagers gathered for the vigil that day, the goat had to be killed and served as a meal. After the burial the numbers of mourners was so large and there was so little food left that they had to slaughter the cow. All lost their lives, but the mouse survived. The moral of the tale: it was a small thing to do to get rid of the trap and that would have saved the life of the hen, the goat and the cow. In life, it’s the small things that can be fixed, yet if not fixed can give birth to bigger problems.
“It will be an historical disaster if we forcefully send these people back,” says Helge Nørrung, lawyer and member of the board of the association of immigration lawyers in Denmark. The Iraqi's feeling of injustice is due to different factors. Firstly the Danish government did not follow the UNHCR guidelines to give Iraqis automatic refugee status abroad because of the war. Secondly, many are steadfast in their claim they will be sought out by the militias if they return home. They feel betrayed by Denmark and claim that the asylum system is not working properly. Helge Nørrung has 15 years experience of working with asylum cases. New Times interviewed him about the reliability of the asylum system. A shrinking board The refugee board is the board that reviews cases rejected by the Immigration Service. Once there were seven members but since 2002 there have been only three members; the legal judge from one of the local courts, the second is from the lawyers association, and the third is from the Ministry of Refugees and Integration. “I think the refugee board tries to be fair in its judgements but they don’t have the same legal procedures as a normal court. It is not a court although it has some traits of a court, like it consists of a chairman but he doesn’t have the same independence as a judge. For example, a judge cannot be relieved but in the refugee board, he is changed every 4 years,” said Helge Nørrung. No democratic control In a democracy the legal system should be open. Helge explained: “The board meetings are not open to the public, yet one of the evident traits in a democratic society is the openness of the court, anybody can come and see what is happening there, but in the Refugee
Board it is always closed. Their argument is that they are protecting the asylum seeker. But a question arises, why don’t they open it for the people the asylum seeker would want to have inside? But even that is denied. It is just always closed," he explained. Personally targeted The Immigration Service takes a narrow view of the Refugee Convention and only gives positive to people who have been targeted as individuals. Helge gave an example: “Even though Christians in Iraq are persecuted as a group the Iraqi Christians who got asylum last year got it because each one could prove they were persecuted individually because of their faith. They had to refer to many things, like family members, to get this asylum. The investigation alone cost a lot of resources yet if the government had just granted asylum to the whole group a lot of time, effort and money would have been saved." No appeals Normally decisions of boards can be appealed. This is not the case with the Refugee Board: “When any other board makes a decision, it can still be appealed to a higher court and this should be the normal procedure, but it is not the case with the Refugee Board, although these are matters concerning life and death. The Board’s decisions are final. Yet if they were to be appealed in a normal court, they would re-investigate the procedure, and evaluate the mistakes that might have been made".
police and find out if that person has a criminal record or not”. Nørrung continued: “Sometimes the asylum seekers feel that the translator is being biased. In addition, if the translator seems to be giving him some good advice, which could be the case, then that would be another problem,” he said and added: “We have had instances where the translator has misguided the applicant and we have had cases where the interpreters want to interfere with the case.” The truth may come out slowly “I think the refugee board doesn’t do enough to check for loop holes [errors, Ed.] that could have transpired. For example, if the applicant felt intimidated and did not say all that happened to him at the first hearing and then later told the whole truth, it will look like he had made up his story whereas the real fact may be he was afraid to speak. For if he was afraid of the authorities in his own country, he may need time to trust the authorities here too. And when we talk about torture, this is an area where a person will be very reluctant to share information, especially if he doesn’t trust the authorities or the people who have to interview him.” About the asylum system in general, Nørrung stated: "Yes, I believe that the policies have changed over time - and they have changed for the worse." Read the full interview with Helge Nørrung on www.newtimes.dk
Lost in translation There is a lack of qualified or trained interpreters for the Danish refugee board, which has lead to mistakes, maintained Helge Nørrung: “There is the need for at least a minimal qualification for the interpreters. All the Immigration Service does is to pick someone who isn’t Danish and who speaks a foreign language, take him or her to the
newtimes · June 2009
Jassim From Iraq 21 years in Denmark
Jamal From Syria 14 years in Denmark
Halima From Turkey 12 years in Denmark
I think the best thing in Denmark is the law. Everybody is equal when it comes to the law and every individual has to obey it no matter what is his/her position. When it comes to law I am equal to a Danish Queen and that is great. The most difficult thing is the social life. It’s nothing as back in my home country where everyone is social with others. It’s hard to find a true friend who’s not a business friend.
I like the order in here. It’s so organized. The law is perfect. The work system is good and I also like the buildings here, they are great. But, no matter how long you’ve been living here, even if you become a Danish citizen, still there are differences and others treat you as a foreigner. Some Danes are hard to communicate with and no matter how good you are to them, they will forget about you easily.
I like the education system in Denmark. People are polite here. The work is so organized and the country has good democracy. But I feel lonely in Denmark because of the social life here. Danes are always busy and have not enough time to be with others.
Zorica From Bosnia 5 years in Denmark
Etta From Zimbabwe 1.5 years in Denmark
Mr. Jamaluddin From Bangladesh 11 years in Denmark
In my opinion the best thing about Denmark is good economy, education, honest and helpful people. There are many opportunities here and it depends on a person whether he or she wants to use them. I do not agree with the politics here concerning immigration. My husband was a professional footballer. After playing in Denmark for 6 years, he was injured and is unable to play any longer. The Danish government denied our visa applications and we are now looking for ways to stay in Denmark. In these 6 years we settled down, bought an apartment, learnt Danish and are quite well integrated into the society. We never used the social welfare, because we always worked hard for what we have. I also started studying pharmacy and I want to finish my studies here.
Denmark is an absolutely safe country and this is what I like about it. I have my peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about my children or their safety when they go around or at school. It is difficult not being with my family. Also, some Danish people judge me before they know me. They start asking questions in their mind about my background and why I’m here. They think it was easy to leave my country.
The best thing to me is that there is freedom of speech here. I think the most difficult thing is security because at present I am feeling very insecure. On 5th of December 2008 some unknown young Danes attacked me and my friend at Kastrupvej. They killed my friend and I was badly injured and was in hospital for a long time. Even now I can’t do anything properly. Unfortunately, the police have not got far with the case. I don’t know the reason behind this.
By Nabila and Kaosar
On June 3rd Team New Times went out onto the streets of Copenhagen and interviewed foreigners - both refugees and immigrants that we met. We asked them: 1. What is the best thing about living in Denmark? 2. What is the most difficult thing about being in Denmark?
newtimes · June 2009
- A curse for asylum seekers With the current system, is it possible to provide adequate dental care for asylum seekers in Denmark? This is the story about how a common problem can turn into a nightmare. By Kaosar Ahmed For asylum seekers, basic health care is provided for by the Danish Red Cross; there are doctors and nurses at all centres, and they refer the asylum seekers to medical specialists and psychologists if needed. This is all good, however, the treatment given in dental cases is often not defined by the patient’s needs, but by the strict guidelines given by the Danish Immigration Service (IS), resulting in people sometimes having to live in agony for days on end. Discontinued treatment John D’Costa from Bangladesh suffered from acute dental pain caused by cavities while living at Avnstrup. “When I visited the clinic, the nurse just gave me paracetamol to relieve the pain, but it was not sufficient for me at that time. She told me she would make an appointment with the dentist. After 8 days I got the appointment; but my pain had been so severe that I hadn't been able to sleep all those nights." John needed several visits to the dentist, but the treatment was never completed: "At my third visit the dentist said that he would have to stop my treatment because the budget limit had been reached.” Unfortunately John was deported before the matter could be resolved.. No pain no game Erik Yakubjan, a young man from Georgia, also failed to receive proper treatment: “In 2007, I noticed that one of my teeth had a small cavity in it, so I went to the clinic at Sandholm. The nurse refused me any treatment because it didn’t hurt and suggested I come back once pain set in. Months later, in 2008, it started to hurt and then I got my appointment with the dentist. She informed me that if I had sought help sooner, she would have
been able to repair it, but now there was no way to save my tooth. So she pulled it out. It was not my fault I lost my tooth. Who will take responsibility?” New Times knows of at least four more young men who have lost teeth due to bureaucracy. It seems senseless that young people should lose their teeth to petty problems that could have been easily fixed if the system had allowed them to get help in time. Treat with permission We spoke with Svend Erik Brande, who is in charge of the clinic in centre Avnstrup, to learn about the procedures for dental treatment. He said: "Every asylum seeker who suffers from dental pain gets proper treatment by a registered dentist. On
average, 6-7 patients a week come to the centre clinic, which is allowed to spend 3.000kr on each asylum seeker during their whole stay in Denmark. If the cost of treatment exceeds this, we have to get permission from the IS". According to the IS, 67% of all applications for dental treatment are approved. However, this figure says little about the nature of the procedures. The treatment given is primarily palliative, such as filling of cavities or extraction of ‘bad’ teeth, and the guidelines state that it can only be given if considered 'absolutely necessary, urgent, and painrelieving'. Except in cases where treatment is necessary to preserve a person's chewing ability, any-
thing considered conservative dentistry will not be performed, and no old damages will be treated. Mr Brande explained that the waiting time depends on the severity of the pain and on the dentist’s schedule. For this reason, patients eligible for treatment may still have to wait a few days. "There is an option to get dental treatment on the Copenhagen Dental School”, he continued, “but usually they only take special cases, and there is a longer waiting time for appointments". High expenses Preben Lund Jørgensen, a dentist who has been practicing for 20 years, explained which problems the asylum seekers typically present with and what treatment he provides: “Usually, they come with gingivitis and dental carriage. My first priority is to alleviate pain, then I provide scaling, filling and in a few cases replacement of teeth. Dental treatment is very expensive here in Denmark, so I have to consider the bill. I always try to do something extra for the asylum seekers, but 3.000 kr is not always enough money. To get special procedures approved, I must prove that the afflicted teeth are absolutely crucial to the patient". The IS guidelines state that a dentist at all times has to be able to account for his actions. Despite the willingness to go the extra mile for people in need, the dentists who treat asylum seekers are thus under a great pressure to
always prove that they are operating within the guidelines. What can be done? From the people interviewed, New Times collected the following suggestions on how to improve the system to avoid unfortunate examples like those described: 1. IS should acknowledge that 3,000 kr is not realistic for adequate care, and should raise the limit accordingly. 2. To lower the costs, IS and the Copenhagen Dental School (CDS)should co-operate more: if those problems that fit into the dentist students’ training get referred directly to the CDS, this would save time and money. 3. To receive treatment, one shouldn’t have to be pain! Dealing with dental issues early will prevent them from escalating and requiring procedures that are both more expensive and invasive. 4. Proper palliative aid should be provided by the nurses while the patient waits for treatment. 5. To reduce the waiting time for getting an appointment, the asylum centres should make contracts with more local dentists. 6. The IS’s procedures should be reviewed and changed to limit the waiting time for getting permission for treatment. As we all know, dental treatment is not free in Denmark. At the same time asylum seekers are not allowed to work and earn money. In other words they depend on the system to provide for them. New Times therefore urges the IS to implement the above-mentioned suggestions to ensure that patients will be given the treatment they need, and to relieve them from the curse of dental pain.
newtimes · June 2009
Creative page We bring you examples of asylum seekers' creativity and imagination.
Interrupted Game - an interview with a visual artist, Amel Ibrahimovic
in the night Somewhere by Fouad ild cries, h c a t h ig n in the s Somewhere someone die d n a s p e e A woman w the night, in Somewhere es. Humanity hid the night, a soul in Somewhere screams st in e and die, lo d fa le p o e p As dreams. the night in e r e h w e Som . Reality lives the night in Somewhere wells Loneliness d no sounding bells. ie, As people d the night, she in Somewhere Dies alone. the night in e r e h w e m So e light? Where is th
Amel Ibrahimovic, a Danish visual artist,
Spiritual food "Man does not live only of bread"- is a line from the Bible and it is useless to argue with that. Being without sufficient spiritual food can
was pleased to give New Times a tour of his resent exhibition “Interrupted Game”. The story goes back to 1993, when at the age of 15 Amel fled his native Bosnia and came to Denmark as an asylum seeker.
be a path to depression and mental problems. In many cases, spiritual
By Natasa Pokupcic and Ajmal
food is not less important than physical food.
After coming to Denmark, Amel first lived in a ship in Copenhagen harbour with 1,500 other refugees. Soon after, he was moved to an asylum centre where he spent another two years. Finally, he was moved to a centre for Bosnian refugees in Kolding for a year until he was granted asylum in 1997. Amel, now a Danish citizen, remembers his life in the centre and the integration into the society: “The centre was a traumatic place with many sick people and people fighting all the time. But, I was young and it was easier for me. I wanted to go back to Bosnia, but it was impossible for security reasons. Also, my family talked me out of it saying that I would get a better education in Denmark. They were right.”
By John Insecurity and fear of the future are part of everyday life of the asylum seekers living in asylum centers. Getting closer to culture would be one way to change this situation. Team New Times is starting a project to gather together information about places that feed the spirit and cost nothing. One of our New Times members, John, offers a small review of cultural events and museums he likes to visit. Here is his message and recommendations: "Try to take off from the everyday routine in a refugee camp and use a bit of spiritual food – it for sure helps in the difficult situation asylum seekers are faced with. Here are a few of my favorite places in the centre of the beautiful town of Copenhagen. When I first heard that the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of France is in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, I just had to go and look. There I also found works from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, it houses and
newtimes · June 2009
paintings by well known artists such as Renoir, Van Gogh and many others. www.glyptoteket.dk Dantes Plads 7. Free entry on Sundays. If you want to see how chairs looked like in the 60s or you want to see the first mobile phone designed in Denmark go to The Danish Museum of Art and Design. It is the central exhibition site for Danish and international industrial design, arts and crafts. www.kunstindustrimuseet.dk/en Bredgade 68. Every Wednesday is free. About 2 years ago I saw a wonderful exhibition all about wood; amazing things made of wood like an Arne Jakobsen chair and an old lathe at the Danish Design Centre. They change their exhibitions often and I now go back regularly. The centre's aim is to build awareness of design and the economic effects of design among business. The cafe also has special tables and chairs and lighting. There is a small shop with very nice, inexpensive post cards, even an asylum seeker can afford.
www.ddc.dk Opposite Tivoli on H.C. Andersens Boulevard. Wednesdays are free from 17.00 to 21.00. Sometimes, the nature is what I need, and then I go to Copenhagen’s Botanical Garden, near Nørreport station. The garden is a living museum and holds Denmark's largest collection of live plants and the sole bank for wild plants. In the glasshouses you can see palms, orchids and rainforest glasshouses. They are a warm place to go in the winter. http://botanik.snm.ku.dk/english/ the entry is free everyday. One thing I would recommend are the 12 white statues on the waterfront that were made in 1996 during the “Copenhagen-City of Culture” festival. They were made by refugees and symbolise people in exile." New Times asks readers to give us your feedback and to send your own recommendations for spiritual food for the next edition. email@example.com
Art - a way to communicate The decision to become an artist came after he was granted the asylum mostly because he felt that art was an opportunity to communicate better with people. Amel now takes us back to 1993 and shows us his work “My refugee clothes and shoes”, a real jacket and shoes, the ones he wore when he left Bosnia and came to Denmark. Amel’s story
continues a decade later with the series of sketches and photographs: “It is 2004. I finished school, became a Danish citizen and I was comfortable. But a part of my identity was missing and I had to find it. At that time, the fireworks factory in Seest exploded and I was able to go there. The photographs I took and the newspaper headlines reminded me of Bosnia during the war and I felt a connection with the people from Seest." Focus on your life When we asked him if he had a message for the asylum seekers, he paused and finally said: “It was a big life experience for me, both good and bad. It can make a person stronger, but it can also make you sick. The practical advice would be: Organize your day! It is important to say to yourself: I am here now, not in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. This is where I am and I will take this as an opportunity. Do not spend your time only criticizing the system. Try to be stronger than the people around you, get physical activity and set the aim to win this situation by building and humanizing yourself.” Read the full interview on www.newtimes.dk