It’s May 13 and we are travelling from Sigerslev and Sandholm, from Auderød, Avnstrup and Vipperød. Some of us have walked 16 kilometres from the asylum centre in Kongelunden to Rådhuspladsen. We are not alone; activists and ordinary Danes are here to support us. We number about 1,500 people. This is no ordinary demonstration. With our banners and placards, we have one clear message to the Danish government: let us all out of the camps.
When this government came to power, the hopes of immigrants in general and asylum seekers in particular were revitalised. It was a new dawn after a long night of despair. But soon talk started that not all asylum seekers would be allowed to live and work outside the centres. Asylum seekers and their supporters got worried. They decided to make their voices heard. This was after the government had appointed a taskforce to look into the possibility of changing regulations for asylum seekers. Our concern was that asylum seekers themselves were not consulted by the committee throughout their deliberations. The committee’s composition remained secretive and its discussions kept out of the public eye.
When we gathered at Rådhuspladsen, we made our voices heard. Speaker after speaker expressed the frustration and desperation of life in the camps – the frustration and desperation that comes when your application for asylum is rejected and your fate is left in the hands of the police. The police employ absurd methods to frustrate rejected asylum seekers to make them agree to voluntarily deportations to the countries they fled from.
Current figures show that out of 950 rejected asylum seekers last year, only 150 agreed to be sent out of Denmark in the past. It is hard to agree to be deported to a country where you are sure to face torture or death; many would rather rot in jail here. The living allowance allocated to each asylum seeker is drastically reduced once an asylum seeker’s application is rejected, any kind of permission they had to work is terminated and, finally, the individual can be detained at Ellebæk Detention Centre to await deportation.
By this time, many have had a total mental breakdown. The thought of being sent back to the countries where they witnessed or were victims of torture or persecution, or were even threatened with death, is too great to bear. The many months or even years spent in an isolated asylum camp destabilises the mind forever. For those who end up getting asylum after a long stay in the camp, the integration into their new society is derailed, and those who end up not receiving it end up depressed or more isolated. Ideally an asylum system should help people rebuild their broken lives. It should be a safe haven that allows them to breathe a sigh of relief after witnessing atrocities in the countries they fled.
The scepticism that allowing asylum seekers to live and work outside the camps would lead to an influx of refugees is ill-founded. People do not flee to find work abroad. As is the case in places like the United Kingdom, where the number of asylum seekers is considerably higher and is increasing even though asylum seekers there face worse conditions. This points to the fact that the numbers of asylum seekers are related to things like family ties and language, and not necessarily economic considerations.
So where do we go from here? The government promised that after six months, asylum seekers would be allowed to live outside the centres and work. We call for nothing short of that. Working and living in a normal community is more than just a fundamental freedom, it is also at the core of the human spirit. It gives dignity to a group of individuals when they are most vulnerable.
Wars, political instability and conflicts will be with us as long as humanity exists, but human dignity and the prosperity of any society will be measured not on how well its most privileged members are treated, but on how well its vulnerable minorities are cared for. We live in an increasingly interconnected world village – we have to rise to the occasion and do what we must.
The author the spokesperson for the Out of the Camps movement and a resident of the Auderød asylum centre.