Denmark Votes To Force Refugees Into Camps

CREDIT: Thomas Borberg/Polfoto via AP

Police stand in front of a train as members of 'Refugees are Welcome' demonstrate against the Swedish control of identification from travelers and migrants, at Copenhagen International Airport in Kastrup, Denmark, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016.

Denmark will vote on new laws next week that could expel refugees from cities and towns. In the past year, the Scandinavian country printed ads in Lebanese newspapers asking refugees to stay away and threatened to seize refugees’ jewelry upon entry. Now, the Danish parliament passed a resolution that will force the government to provide a plan for state-backed villages that will remove refugees from cities and towns, Reuters reported Thursday.

“Denmark was one of the first champions of the Refugee Convention, but its government is now brazenly creating blocks to the well-being and safety of refugee families,” Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, Gauri van Gulik, told Reuters. Denmark once embraced foreigners with open arms but a recent political shift to the far-right reflects growing animosity toward Muslims and refugees in many continental European nations following incidents like November’s ISIS attack on Paris.

The resolution’s primary advocate was the Danish People’s Party (DF), a right-wing, anti-immigration, and anti-Europe party. Last year, Denmark took in a record 20,000 refugees from places like Syria and Iraq. Many aim to simply pass through to Sweden, who took 200,000 asylum seekers in 2015.

The so-called villages will be are similar in set- up to the refugee camps that many fled in locations like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. “Some tent camps have already been set up for single male refugees to give migrant families priority in cities,” Reuters reported.

Amnesty International said Denmark’s new laws that include stripping refugees of jewelry to pay for their aid and potentially send them to camps could have a “devastating impact on vulnerable people.” The vote is set for Jan. 26.

“Amnesty’s statement came a day after the European Union’s parliament voted in favour of requiring Denmark to send an official representative to explain its plan to take refugees’ assets,” Al-Jazeera reported Thursday.

Evicting refugees from cities and towns into camps is a specious solution to a sinuous problem, according to experts. By placing refugees in camps and removing them from society and the economy, refugees are not allowed to provide for themselves.

“Camps condemn refugees to years, maybe decades, of dependency,” Pulitzer Prize Winner Tina Rosenberg wrote in the New York Times. Rosenberg addressed the presence of Somali refugees in Kenya in 2011, but the example is no less salient today.

“Life outside a camp gives refugees the chance to live a dignified exile, and to acquire cash and skills that can benefit them and their country once they go home again,” she wrote.

“We need to do more than just keep them alive,” then senior-field coordinator Killian Kleinschmidt, a veteran aid worker with more than two decades experience, told me during a visit to Zaatari refugee camp in 2013. At that time, the United Nations-ran camp housed nearly 120,000 Syrian refugees.

Only by empowering refugees and providing them with the proper education and skills can will they return and rebuild their country, Kleinschmidt said, citing the example of Somalia where much of the money used to help rebuild the country after the war came from the foreign-educated Somali diaspora.

“The most vulnerable and weakest might prefer camps,” Jeff Crisp, former head of policy development and evaluation at the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), told the New York Times in 2011. “But most refugees, given a chance, prefer self-reliance.”