A health clinic for illegal immigrants is to open in Copenhagen's Vesterbro district in two weeks.
The privately funded clinic will be run almost exclusively by volunteer staff and doctors to provide treatment to undocumented migrants – from rejected asylum seekers to students and au pairs staying past their visa deadlines.
Such clinics already exist in Gothenburg in Sweden and Oslo in Norway, and now the Red Cross in Denmark, the Danish Refugee Council and the Danish Medical Association have joined forces to open the private clinic on Reventlowsgade beside central station.
While the idea was first publicly proposed last December, work on the clinic has been underway for almost a year.
“We meet people from this vulnerable group every day – many of them are too scared to seek help,” Poul Jaszczak from the Danish Medical Association said.
“As doctors we cannot let these people live with untreated illnesses because the Hippocratic oath obliges us to help all people regardless of their legal status. So we’re happy now that we are able to establish the clinic.”
Vibeke Lenskjold from the Red Cross has been charged with managing the new clinic. She explains that the idea for the clinic came about after the Red Cross was repeatedly contacted by worried doctors.
“We heard from a lot of doctors in hospitals and clinics saying they thought there were issues surrounding the treatment of undocumented migrants, asking if it was legal to treat them,” Lenskjold told The Copenhagen Post.
After consulting with the health minister, Bertel Haarder – who told the Red Cross in Denmark that the Health Act did not forbid the treatment of undocumented migrants – they decided to set up the clinic.
But even with immigration minister Søren Pind agreeing with Haarder, Lenskjold said the Red Cross in Denmark is still meeting with the police next week to discuss whether they will intervene deport users after their treatment.
“We need to have a good relationship with the police because we need their co-operation,” Lenskjold said.
Some politicians have expressed concern with the clinic. According to Politiken newspaper, the Danish People's Party (DF) called the clinic “a provocation by organisations who don’t agree with the Danish immigration policy”.
DF also claims the clinic's staff and doctors will be acting illegally by helping undocumented migrants stay in the country. Such an act is punishable by up to two years in jail.
The Conservatives also disapprove of the plan and believe the police should not turn a blind eye as they do in Gothenburg and Oslo.
“I won’t object if the police ensure they are removed from the country after their treatment has ended,” Conservative MP Tom Behnke told Politiken. “How the police go about their work is something I leave comfortably in their hands.”
But the Social Liberal Party disagree.
“This clinic is important and it makes no sense if illegal immigrants can’t use it. The alternative would be to set up a health clinic in secret,” Soc-Lib MP Lone Dybkjær told Politiken. “We already treat other people who are on the wrong side of the law, such as people who have shot others.”