Aarhus is taking a stand against fear. The second-largest city in Denmark is one of the most diverse in Scandinavia. It’s population of around 300,000 includes almost 40,000 migrants from roughly 130 countries. It has been welcoming refugees for decades, and has won awards for its approach to integration.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. Unemployment rates among citizens of non-Western origin in Aarhus are still much higher than the average, and the city has experienced rising crime in the past (though crime in Denmark nationally is currently at historically low levels). Nevertheless, Aarhus’ approach to integration and counter-radicalisation has so far proved very effective.
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
Since the start of the refugee crisis, Denmark has been experiencing record low levels of crime. Of crimes committed, 83% are committed by people of Danish origin and 14% by people of non-Western descent. Given that roughly 10% of Denmark’s population are of non-Western origin, those figures don’t seem to justify fears of greater criminality among ethnic or minority groups.
Meanwhile, the Danish government has been doing everything possible to discourage people from coming to Denmark. It has already some of the toughest immigration laws in Europe, and in 2016 it introduced more laws or policies specifically targeting migrants and refugees than any other country in Europe. These include laws allowing property to be seized from asylum seekers arriving in the country, and increasing the waiting period before families can be reunited from one to three years (a fact which was then advertised prominently in Lebanese newspapers).Curious to know more about refugees and the law in Denmark? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
We had a comment sent in from Andrew, who thinks that Europeans do not “fear refugees”, but rather have very realistic concerns. Is he right? Are we in danger of dismissing legitimate concerns?
To get a response, we spoke to Jacob Lang, a student and local activist who lives in Aarhus, Denmark. What would he say?
Well, I would say that I think he’s right. We should listen to people; both refugees and local citizens. But, in my experience in Aarhus, I think there is a huge problem with misinformation. For example, I see a lot of comments on Facebook by people who are not aware of how many refugees Denmark actually receives. They have this idea of a huge flood of refugees and immigrants coming across the border to infiltrate our country. So, I think that of course we should listen to people, but we should also do more to qualify the debate and make sure it happens based on facts. So, Andrew is right, but sometimes people are misinformed, and it happens a lot these day with ‘fake news’ and anti-refugee websites.
For another perspective, we also put Andrew’s comment to Hans Christian Knudsen, Head of National Integration Services at the Danish Refugee Council. What would he say?
I am not in a position to judge whether a private concern is legitimate or not. But I believe that all human beings have the right to seek protection through asylum in third countries. Even though the number of refugees and migrants arriving to Europe via the Mediterranean has increased dramatically in the past years, the total number remains a relatively small share of the total number of displaced worldwide (less than 1%), and an even smaller proportion of Europe’s total population (0.1%). In comparison, Syrian refugees make up 25% of the population in Lebanon, 10% of the population in Jordan, and Turkey hosts almost 2 million refugees – more than any other country in the world. As the world’s most prosperous continent, Europe is able to shoulder a challenge of this size.
Our next comment come from Arnout, who also blames the media for scaring people and misrepresenting facts. Would Jacob Lang agree?
I would say to Arnout that, at least in a Danish context, we have public service media so, in some ways they’re bound to be more objective. But, again, he is right because the only time we hear about refugees in the Danish media is when there are more coming or when a crime is committed; they never show any success stories.
I meet people who have come to Denmark as refugees and who speak perfect Danish and have a job and contribute to society, but the media never report on that. So, I think the media should be more balanced. It’s okay to report on the negative news, but they also need to show the more boring, positive stories. When there’s a crisis, we all talk about it, but when it’s normal nobody talks about it.
Finally, how would Hans Christian Knudsen respond to Arnout’s comment about the media?
Like any other political item ‘Integration of refugees’ is a subject for debate. And fake news is also used in this debate. But my experience from a Danish perspective is that the media, generally speaking, has been well balanced. In fact we have had very good success in Denmark with integrating refugees into the Danish workforce. And the success stories have been covered by the media..
Why are Europeans so scared of refugees? Are people’s fears justified? What would help reassure people and allay their fears? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!