On the first of May, I could be forced into homelessness due to the actions of Aarhus Council’s integration department.
I was invited to Denmark under the ‘Freetown arrangement’ of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) , which lasted until March 2012. When that arrangement expired, I became a political refugee.
Since being in Denmark, I have given many lectures at institutions and received honorariums and a bit of other money from my artistic and cultural engagements. This provides what is termed ‘B income’ under the terms of the Integration Act.
Although I am on kontanthjælp, I have worked on leveraging my situation to become self-sustaining through my ‘B income’ work, which is steadily growing.
I have also started the Experience Aarhus project, and like any start-up, it will take some time before the project makes money. However, my forecasts show that with our growth, we will be able to support an editorial team, including myself, thus creating an income for myself and employment for others.
I have never refused to work in Denmark. I like to work and I work hard on any given day. From 2010-2011, I was a freelance journalist for Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Aarhus while on the ICORN programme. I also worked with Aarhus Global Media, a non-profit media organisation for minorities in Jutland, where I produced a number of social and cultural programmes.
When neither of these unpaid jobs were able to provide me with a salary, I decided to pursue my own source of employment.
An idea came to me after a nasty racist incident in which I was refused entry into an Aarhus bar because of my skin colour. That motivated me to create Experience Aaarhus (aarhusculture.com), an online community publication that has served over 30,000 Aarhus residents in the past six months. It has also given a platform to a diverse range of cultural voices in the city of Aarhus, which will be the European Culture Capital of 2017.
We started only seven months ago and have reached several key milestones, including establishing a loyal readership. Anyone who has ever started a publication will tell you that you don’t become profitable in the first year. In fact, start-ups normally take about two years before becoming profitable.
Aarhus Council’s culture department and the local European Culture Capital team have shown interest in our project, and we are in talks with them to figure out how they can support us.
Six months ago, I was given permission on my integration contract to work on this project as a service to the community and as a way to create employment. The community service part is already well on its way, and we are now undergoing moneymaking schemes that will allow us to employ contributors, which would include giving myself a salary. This way, we will continue the important work of supporting Aarhus’s cultural heritage and give a voice to the city’s minorities.
The mayor of Aarhus, Jacob Bundsgaard, even described the project as “an exciting meeting place between people – and a win for the city”.
We are winning for the people of Aarhus, but Aarhus Council’s integration department thinks I should stop working on this project and instead go out and do menial labour.
This is something I am not able to do due to a motorbike accident that left me with permanent damage in my left leg.
So that is why I instead use my experience and skills as a writer and artist in order to provide work for myself and eventual employment for others.
But the council says that if I do not take a paid job, they will end my kontanthjælp payments. That would cause me to become homeless.
The council’s handling of my case is unfair. I am providing a public service and have a reasonable growth forecast and monetisation plan in action.
I still have two years of my three-year integration contract to go, and I feel that my work meets 99 percent of the objectives of the contract. I am raising this matter publicly, not because I am afraid to become homeless, but because when that time comes, I want the public to have a full account of this injustice.